Monday, January 30, 2006

Osu Kannon Monthly Market January 28th 2006

osu kannon monthly market
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.

Twice every month theres a large market held in the grounds of the Osu Kannon Temple.The usual bric a brac and clutter one would expect.
Faded kimonos.Discarded shoes.Dog-eared books.Rusty swords.Chipped ceramics.Stained stone statues.
Theres the odd stall which sells fresh vegetables and produce...

Nickel and Dimed....1984

nickel and dimed
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Having finished Crime and Punishment I've spent much of my free time over the last week trying to reduce the dusty pile of books awaiting my attention.
I enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed.The author took various low wage jobs to see if she could survive on such as nurse aide,Wal-Mart employee and house cleaner.She finds it difficult to make ends meet,even when she holds down two full-time jobs at the same time.The lack of low priced accomodation seems to be the major obstacle.Unable to save for a bond or deposit she faces renting more expensive weekly rental options.
Medical costs and on the job injuries also place a strain on a tight budget.
She writes at length about the training and strict management systems of various employers and has a graphic description of the various kinds of shit she encounters as a cleaner.The book was written in 2000 so I dont imagine things have improved much under the current administration.At Wal-Mart she was confronted with the term "time theft".A concept whereby employees do something that doesnt benefit the employer such as having a lunch break,a toilet stop or merely talking to customers....

1984 by George Orwell

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I thought of "time theft" later in the week while listening to "1984".The ten hour audiobook read by Timothy West was on sale at a local bookshop.Hearing the chillingly realistic descriptions of the characters and the grim story unfold aloud adds another dimension to my understanding of the book.Hearing the stark,grating words,the rhythm and intonation is a far different experience from merely reading it.
One passage struck home as familiar.Overly familiar.
"An overpowering smell of sweat,a sort of unconscious testimony to the strenuousness of his life followed him about wherever he went and even remained behind him after he had gone"
Not my boy wonder boss but Winston Smiths fellow employee Parsons..." a man of paralysing stupidity".

DVD's...Cinderella Man....Ae Fond Kiss
After the recent DVD drought I watched two in as many days.
Cinderella Man with Russell Crowe,Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti.The Ron Howard directed movie is based on the life of boxer James J Braddocks career during the 1920s and 30s.
A couple of reviews tended to focus on Crowes personal life labelling him as an "arsehole" and a "thirty foot Hollywood prick".Whatever.I dont care.
He brings a presence and weight to this role.I hesitate to use the overworked word "gravitas" but you get the idea.Ably supported by Zellweger as his wife and Giamatti as his coach.Giamatti shines in his part.I've seen him in "American Splendor" and "Sideways" but here he has a character and the latitude to display his ability fully.
The last half hour leading to the final title fight is exciting and well paced.No great message but a real feel good movie.

The other movie I stumbled across was "Ae Fond Kiss" directed by Ken Loach.A minor movie in comparison to the Hollywood power and budget of Cinderella Man.Set in modern day Glasgow it tells the story of two people from different cultures and religions meeting.
Living in Japan with its largely homogeneous population I tend to forget that most societies are an unwieldy cultural,political,racial and political patch work.The boyfriend is a Pakistani Muslim while his partner is an Irish Catholic woman.
The issues of love,family,loyalty and religion are raised as the pair try to come to terms with what their relationship will do to their lives and those they love.
You end up feeling sorry for all the parties involved.The Muslim father trying to do what he thinks is best,the son who will be virtually exiled,banished from his family and the girlfriend who could lose her job at the Catholic school if she continues to live with her Muslim boyfriend.
One memorable scene involves her getting berated by the local Catholic priest accusing her of sleeping with "any Tom,Dick or Mohammed",
I've always thought of Glasgow to be a grey,dour and dangerous place.Some of the locations give lie to this fact with tree-lined streets and wellgroomed suburban housing.
Loach uses non-professional actors in the main roles.While it gives you some fresh faces to look at, it can lower the acting quality.There were times when I wished the boyfriend would give or emote a little more considering the position he was supposed to be in.All in all an average movie but one which made me wonder what people will sacrifice for that elusive thing called love....

Monday, January 23, 2006

Crime and Punishment

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
What with the weather remaining poor and nothing to tempt me at the video store I`ve been concentrating on finishing Dostoyevskys "Crime and Punishment". Lugging this tome around with me for the last two months or so.I dont think my feeble efforts to put my thoughts on paper can do it any justice.A massive novel of some 656 odd pages.Not a difficult read thanks to the accessible translation and detailed notes.I did sometimes confuse the Russian names which required some back-tracking and re-reading.
The "Crime" itself is graphically described while the
"Punishment" appears to be the central characters suffering and paranoia after the act.
On a deeper level the book is a study of science and religion.Morals and Politics.Family and Society.Set in a changing Russia.Much to ponder and digest.
Originally I wouldnt have bothered reading it.Seemed an onerous task akin to a school assignment....But, because its been referred to and used as a source of inspiration by many people in various fields(most recently I came across it in "The Machinist) I felt compelled to read it.If not for enjoyment then as a chance to beat back my walls of ignorance.I may well have missed the deeper philosphical points but Im glad I made the effort.

Sumo Round Up
The first sumo tournament of the year ended last Sunday.There were a few surprises in the last week.
Asashoryu who was heavily favoured to win (see last weeks entry) fell to a total of 11 wins/4 losses.
The winner of the tournament and Emperors Cup was ozeki Tochiazuma who beat Asa on the final day and ended with an impressive 14 win/1 loss result.
To be fair, Asashoryu had suffered an injury in an earlier bout and was severely restricted in his last fights.
The newly promoted ozeki Kotooshu also ended with a winning record and will be looking to improve.
Hopefully Tochiazuma will press on and if he wins the next basho should be promoted to the rank of yokozuna.

Rock Me Amaedus
Wolfgang Amaedus Mozart is a very popular classic composer in Japan.2006 marks the 250th anniversary of his birth.(1756-1791).His actual birthday is on January 27th.
There are numerous concerts planned throughout the year here.Many of his operas such as "The Marriage of Figaro" will be performed.As well as various concertos, quartets and sonatas.In Tokyo theres apparently something thats called the Japan Mozart Research Institute.It will be holding concerts and lectures.
Also in Tokyo this year concerts will focus not only on Mozart but also composers of his era such as Salieri and Haydn...

Vending Machines In Japan

vending machine
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
According to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association there are about 5.5million vending machines in Japan.About 2.6 million sell soft drinks.Beer,coffee and cigarettes are the other most common products sold.Some machines also sell condoms,computer software and pornography, both videos and books.
Japan has the second largest number of vending machines behind the United States.The machines continue to evolve and gain in popularity.
Recently, machines have started selling new products such as hot oden (a kind of broth or stew),balls of minced fish,hard boiled eggs and even sushi.
Last December during a cold snap one vending machine sold 14,000 cans of oden in Aikihabara,Tokyo.
Vending machines that sell alcohol are being replaced with models that require a form of I.D to be scanned thus preventing underage purchases.
In 2008 cigarette machines will also be fitted with a system to verify customers age using an I.D card issued only to adults.
DyDoDrinco Inc now has models that greet their customers with "konichiwa" (hello) and "Itterasshai" ,(have a nice day). Encountering one of these talking machines for the first time is slightly disconcerting......

Monday, January 16, 2006

More Japlish signs

More Japlish signs
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Another entry in my growing Japlish collection.I think it should be spelt "Bargain".Maybe it was supposed to be Swedish? Another entry from my favourite shopping mall at Konan Apita somewhere in the nether regions of Nagoya Central Japan.

Sumo...when Push comes to Shove....

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
There are 48 "classic" techniques consisting of different throws,trips,lifts,thrusts,shoves and pulls.Some of them are shown on this postcard.

"Rain Falls From Concrete Coloured Skies"

Monday 16th January 2006

The recent heavy snowfalls were replaced last weekend by rains and spring-like temperatures causing avalanches,house collapses and more fatalities.To date at least 90 people have died from snow and weather related accidents.
I had a cold, wet weekend.Friday and Saturday were very dark.Streetlights were on at 3pm piercing the murky gloom.Temperatures in single digits.The highlight of the weekend was watching the first sumo tournament of the year on NHK.

The first sumo tournament or basho is held in Tokyo each year.There are 6 bashos held in various cities throughout the year.Each one starts on a Sunday and runs for 15 days.During this time each wrestler competes in one bout a day.The bashos begin at 10am with the lower ranked wrestlers fighting.The higher ranked wrestlers compete in the late afternoon and the bigger crowds arrive round 4pm to watch them.

There are no weight divisions in sumo.Instead there are 5 or so ranks.The top two ranks are ozeki and the highest,yokozuna. Currently there are no Japanese yokozuna.The sole yokozuna is Asashoryu from Mongolia.He won an unprecedented seven straight bashos and set a record for the number of victories last year.Foreigners are becoming more prominent in the sport.
As well as Asashoryu there is a newly promoted ozeki Kotooshu from Bulgaria and a number of lesser ranked wrestlers including Kokkai from Georgia.
Sumo is a simple sport with rituals that go back to its Shinto roots.There is a shrine like roof above the ring or dohyo which is a 4.55metre diameter raised platform.The referees gyoji wear colorful outfits which have their origin in Shinto.Among the rituals is one where the wrestlers throw salt into the dohyo to purify it as part of their pre fight rituals.

In fact the pre fight rituals often last longer than the actual combat.After a few false starts which involve a crouching, staring match the wrestlers lunge forward attempting to push their opponent out of the ring.The object is simply to push the competition out or unbalance him so that some part of his body other than his feet touch the ground.
Pushing,shoving,thrusting,lifting and grabbing the opponents mawashi or loincloth often follows an unsucessful initial charge.There are over 40 different holds and throws recognised as being legal.
Its midway through the current competition.Although Asashroyu has one loss he is still in the running for a record eighth straight basho win and Emperors Cup victory.Kotooshu has two losses while Kokkai has three losses to date.
NHK screens the basho daily each afternoon.You`ll often see TVs in post offices,department stores and other public buildings tuned to it often surrounded by crowds of onlookers cheering their favourite on....

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nagoya City Subway

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I regularly use the subway to travel round Nagoya and its nether regions.Its quick and convenient.Here are some facts I read recently in the Nagoya Calendar.
The subway first opened in 1957.It now operates an 89km system with 93 stations.It has 131 trains and 762 carriages in operation every day.There are on average 1.1million commuters daily.Not bad when you consider that Nagoya's population is about 2.4 million.
The last train runs at 00:30 each night and the first run begins at 5:30am on the busiest line.

Earthquake Resistance data falsification......

earthquake proof
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
One of the big business scandals of 2005 was the emergence of the falsification of earthquake resistance data on condominium and hotel buildings.The photo isnt of a building involved in the scandal but given its condition Im not sure how resistant it would be should a major quake hit Nagoya.

Seijin No Hi (Coming of Age Day)

Monday 9 January 2006
Its Seijin No Hi or Coming of Age Day today.Another National Holiday.The day of celebration for those who turned 20 years old during the previous year.They can now vote,legally drink and drive.
Been another cold week here.Went back to work last Thursday after a brief break from the chalk ace.Record snowfalls in various parts of Japan.At least 61 people have died in snow and weather related accidents since the snow season started late December.Mostly old people falling off roofs or being run over by snow removing machinery or crushed to death as their houses collapse due to the weight of snow...

"You're supposed to sit on your ass and nod at stupid things
Man that's hard to do
And if you dont they'll screw you
And if you do they'll screw you too"....(Warren Zevon )
So I had my end of contract evaluation first day back at work.Last Thursday.The feedback after the lesson always begins the same."How did you think it went?"I think to myself "Isnt that your job?" Or another predictable question"How could you improve that part of the lesson?" to which I internally respond "What you really mean is that you have no idea and you're asking me right?"

Actually most of the feedback was constructive.I amused myself by staring at the bosses toes poking through the uppers of his shoes and wondering what grade he would give himself for personal appearance.The small teaching component included in the forty minute feedback period was useful.Our boy wonder boss adopts a strange falsetto voice when he goes into "teaching mode".Several octaves higher than his normal speaking voice I can only describe it as similiar to having The Bee Gees right in your face chorusing "Night Fever Night Fever".I found it postively unnerving.I kept my composure.Barely.

Overall my grades were similiar to last years.What did irk me was the fact I only got a "satisfactory" grade for teaching special students which includes children.Boy Wonder said the grade was influenced by the fact "I scared a three year old student".I bet she didnt complain in English but at least I taught her what xenophobia is..I think it reflects more on the person making the assessment and the professionalism of the company go figure....

During my brief New Year break I managed to get down to the BayCity cinema multiplex to see King Kong.I'd read some so-so comments about the length of the movie and other things.Plus Im a bit leery of Jack Black.Like Jim Carrey,Mike Meyers and natto he's an acquired taste.Still theres only one way to find out.
I was pleasantly surprised I'm pleased to report.Like Carrey in "Eternal Sunshine..." Black was restrained.His usual maniac frenetic mode held well in check.I thought the lead actress Naomi Watts,who at times looked like Nicole Kidman, did a great job in a demanding role.Somehow strong yet vulnerable at the same time.It was interesting to see the child star of "Billy Elliott" Jamie Bell handle an adult role.As for Kong I couldnt help but think he was a bit like that big blue furball in "Monsters Inc"...amazing.
I'd read the movie begins slowly.For me it began at a good clip.I was looking for the New Zealand bit actors in the movie.Sure enough there were some present particularly in the early New York scenes when Naomi Watts character was working in the small theatre.
I thought the movie did lag a bit during the dinosaur section of the movie.Some of the dinosaur scenes were overlong and the stampede a cross between "Jumanji" and "Jurassic Park" seemed to be included just for a "gee whizz look how far computer graphics have advanced" rather than move the story on.
However that minor quibble aside I liked the pacing of the ending.Not rushed or drawn out.I was impressed with the way the light seemed to fade out of Kong's eyes as he died,riddled with bullets atop the Empire State Building.
Finally I think you can only appreciate a movie of this scale in a movie theatre.Large screen.Great sound system.The roar and pained cries of the animals and Kong would be lost on a dvd watched at home on an ordinary TV screen.Only on a large screen can you appreciate the size of Kong and the detail of the jungle and New York scenes.
I would go more regularly to the movies here in Japn if they werent such an expensive proposition.At ¥1800 yen or around $22 for a ticket plus transport and the essential drinks and sweets it aint cheap.....

Monday, January 02, 2006

Osu Kannon Temple New Years Day Jan 1st 2006

Long queues form here every year as people arrive to pray at the temple and get blessings on their first visit of the new year.As well as making monetary donations and praying for their health,prosperity and safety in the coming year people can also buy lucky charms and various kinds of food from stalls set up in the grounds.These stalls do a brisk trade in the first three days of each new year.For more details and photos see below...oh and finally Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Monday 2 January 2006
Passed an uneventful New Years Eve.Passed out on my couch after going out for dinner.Arrived home round 10pm.Drifted off to sleep.Awoke 4a.m cold.Never a big fan of New Years Eve anyway.Still going to happen regardless...Not sure what this year will bring.I do know I want to travel and visit a few places and do a few other things in my spare time.

Shuffled down to Osu Kannon temple to witness firsthand the locals making their first visit of the New Year.To pray for happiness,safety and prosperity in the coming year.This custom is called "hatsumode" in Japanese i.e the first visit of the year to the local Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine.A variation is called "hatsuhimode" ...a prayer ceremony held on a sacred mountain-top during the first sunrise of the year.
According to an article in the Japan Times 91 million people are forecast to visit temples or shrines in the first three days of 2006.Provided the weather is good of course.Tokyo's Meiji Shrine is predicted to receive the largest number of visitors at 3.1 million people.Locally in Nagoya,Atsuta Jingu Shrine is crowded with about 2 million visitors.Its one of the most important shrines in Japan housing an Imperial Family treasure.There are usually lots of police and the streets around the shrine are closed to ensure safety and access.
My neighbourhood temple isnt as old as the 1900 year old Atsuta but Osu Kannon is still packed with people.The temple has been on its present site since 1612 though due to war,floods and fire the current buildings date from the 1970s.
As you can see from the photo above the temple area is crowded.People have queued up the stairs on the left and after praying and making monetary donations exit via the right hand side stairs.Queuing time was about 20minutes when I was there yesterday,the line snaked out of the temple grounds into the street.Many young women wore fetching fur lined collared kimonos to keep warm.Also in evidence were people clutching small dogs;this being" the year of the dog" their owners were taking the whimpering,shivering beasts to be blessed for the coming year.
As well as making monetary donations, people could also buy lucky charms for themselves,their houses or cars.There were also various food stalls for the patient lined up hordes.My favourite is tacoyaki...grilled octopus balls.See below for photos and more details..The queue for tacoyaki was almost as long as that for the temple and the toilets.

Movie Soundtracks.
Read recently a CNN article about movie soundtracks.How they can make a good movie better or even be the best feature in a less memorable one.The writer offered as examples the recent movies "Memories of a Geisha" ,soundtrack by John Williams and "The Legend of Zorro" soundtrack by James Horner.Both well known especially Williams for his Star Wars score.Horner is known primarily for his "Titanic" orchestration though I also know him for his "Glory" and "Field of Dreams" efforts.

The premise behind the article got me thinking about movie music.It can in some cases become a character almost itself..take for example "jazz music" in "The Talented Mr Ripley."
Sometimes its used as a background effect in scenes.Later,maybe years later, when you hear the music again you associate it with a particular scene or movie.Take for example Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous".Or even the music that accompanies the "Building the Barn" sequence in "Witness".I can still conjure up the image of a very young Harrison Ford hammering nails, competing against his rival, an Amish carpenter.
To my musically illiterate mind a soundtrack should elevate a scene in a way words or actions cant.There are many obvious examples of this..the music of "Psycho" or "The Exorcist" scores jar to mind.Then again there is the haunting,sense of loss and the futility of war engendered by Horners "Glory" music.Or the equally sad,doomed feeling generated by the use of Beethovens Piano Concerto No 5 Opus 73 "Emperor" in Sean Penns "The Assassination of Richard Nixon".
While watching a movie is first and foremost a visual experience a soundtrack should complement and enhance that experience....

New Years Day Osu Kannon Temple Nagoya

These two guys made a killing supplying tacoyaki balls to the crowds waiting to pray at the temple.The queue to pray stretched out of the temple grounds and past the spot where these two had their stall set up.See below for more....

Tacoyaki Stall.Osu Kannon Temple.New Years Day

Tacoyaki Stall
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Octopus,batter,onions and red ginger are the ingredients for your typical tacoyaki balls.Cooked ingas heated circular metal trays and rotated often to ensure they are evenly cooked.Delicious on a cold wintry day.See below for the finished result.

Tacoyaki....Grilled Octopus Balls

The finished product.Covered in mayonaise,seasoned with red ginger and onion.Very nice on a cold day.Six balls ¥300 ...bargain!