Monday, February 27, 2006

White Orchids Nagoya Orchid Gardens

White Orchids
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Near the centre of Nagoya City you can find the Orchid Gardens.Its an Indian sandstone building with about 250 species or 20,000 South Asian orchids on display in a large atrium.The guide book states the ceiling of the atrium is modelled on the old London Crystal Palace.
Attached to the building which contains a shop and restaurant is a large courtyard and garden area.The courtyard has Roman type pillars and terra cotta pots.
The garden is pretty bleak at the moment but comes complete with a large expanse of lawn and small pond.I'm sure together with the courtyard its a popular spot in summer.
As for the orchids themselves I'm no expert so I was suitably impressed by the variety and colors on display.Pride of place was reserved for a specimen named after Princess Kiko.The plant gained nation wide publicity when it flowered on the same day as the Imperial Family announced Princess Kiko's pregnancy.
Aichi Prefecture is the primary producer of orchids in Japan which seems to be the reason for the building and orchids being in Nagoya.Entry is 700 yen for an adult and the place is closed each Wednesday.

Beluga Whale.Nagoya Port Aquarium

Whale Chow.
More on the recent news about the Japanese whale meat industry and "research whale program".Due to the slump in demand and falling prices the whale meat industry is resorting to using whale meat in dog food.
Check out the full story at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society website.

Turin Winter Olympics 2006
Well its over.Been and gone.Japan's anxiety and fear it would leave Turin without a medal were eased with the gold medal of Shizuka Arakawa in the womens figure skating.
I didnt watch much of the coverage as most of the live broadcasts were in the early morning hours.I'm not a great fan of snow or ice sports despite living over an ice rink.
I was a little bemused by Arakawa's comment on last nights NHK news that she was surprised that a local tenor had sung the song she intended to use in the skating competition during the opening ceremony.Of course she was referring to none other than Pavarotti and his signature tune "Nessum Dorma".If I recall correctly he also sung it in the opening ceremony of the 1990 soccer World Cup which Italy hosted.I dont know why she was surprised,personally it seemed her musical choice was a bit unoriginal.

The Story Of English

the story of english
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I recently finished this informative book by Robert McCrum,Robert MacNeil and William Cran.Its the book of a BBC television series I've not seen.It charts the origins,growth and influences of the English tongue. Chronically,it tracks the different varieties and impact it had and continues to have in the world.The book is full of interesting bits and pieces of information.Shakespeare for example was calculated to have a vocabulary of some 30,000 words.Estimates of the normal educated persons vocabulary average out at half that i.e 15,000 words.
Some points are raised such as the fact that words can be used to include or exclude people from a group which I'd not thought about before.
Also noted was the fact that words can evolve and expand their meaning.One example I've seen recently is the word "diaspora".Originally it was used to describe the dispersal of the Jews outside of Israel at the time of the destruction of the First Temple around 6 BC.Now however its applied to other peoples with large numbers living outside their traditional lands.I recently read of the "Irish diaspora" coined apparently in the 1990's by the then Irish President Mary Robinson.

At the books conclusion the authors predict that the English language will become an international, standardised level one co-existing with a localised and non-standard indigneous form.
A highly readable book on what could have been a dry,dour subject.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Flash February 24 2006

Orchids 1
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Some of the orchid blooms on display at Nagoya City Orchid Gardens

Monday, February 20, 2006

Villaggio Italia...If You Build It They Will Buy

Last Friday I returned to Nagoya Port to check out the Villaggio Italia complex.About five minutes walk from the nearest subway exit.To the left of the Nagoya Aquarium and Harbour Port Buildings.

Its basically a glorified shopping mall with cheaply constructed facades masquerading as being "Italian".
Whatever "Italian" atmosphere and ambience exists is lost in the shadows and Japanese public address system of the multi-storey carpark built adjacent to the area.
The "village" consists of a number of buildings including a wedding chapel and bridal shop if you are in a "Roman Holiday" frame of mind.There is also a narrow canal along which gondolas paddle for maybe 400 metres or so.

The main building houses a restaurant and various Italian themed shops.Theres a kind of supermarket/deli selling produce such as pasta,tinned goods and wine.I noticed the canned tomatoes could be got more cheaply in Nagoya.
No one seemed inclined to fork out 7000 yen for an obscure brand shirt.Nor did I see a rush for the plastic pizza fridge magnets.A bargain at 2,200 yen.
I was trying to find something authentically Italian other than the cheap glassware and garish migraine inducing ceramics available for purchase.Alas it seems the place was planned on the basis of travel pamphlet.
One wonders if the designers have ever been out of the country let alone Italy.Merely calling a shop "Garibaldis Sport Shop" or hanging up tacky movie posters doesnt help matters.
As for the actual building construction if you look closely,well not that closely you can see the thin plaster and plywood under the tiles.
The structures just dont have the permanence and solidity they are so desperately trying to replicate.
None of the materials used have a natural aged patina.The effect is all a little forced,flimsy and tacky.
There are a number of small restaurants and pizza joints but they too seem to be more a Japanese version of the real thing in terms of style and ingredients.What do you make of a purportedly Italian restaurant that advertises it has a Viking order menu??

Villaggio Italia.If You Build It They Will Buy..

Villaggio Italia,Nagoya Port
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
My biggest cringe was saved for the replica statue of David.For some reason its BLACK!! Why?

Having seen the real one in Florence with my own eyes I can vouch its an off white pasty marble color.
Unfortunately the statue is placed on a pedestal out of hands reach. But I swear its plastic.

Im just glad I didnt have to pay the 1000 yen entrance fee payable on weekends and national holidays.
The place is definitely worth a look.Not for the pricey shops and food but rather as an insight as to how some Japanese perceive Italy.

JarHead.."We're Still in the Desert"

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The movie based on the book started screening here last week.I read Anthony Swoffords book some time ago.Its based on his experiences during the first Gulf War in 1990.
The movie comes across as a cross between Three Kings,Apocalypse Now meets Full Metal Jacket.
Theres the now almost obligatory enlistment and drill sergeant sequences before the war action scenes start.Or dont.

The majority of the film is spent watching the soldiers anticipating action.Which doesnt really happen.

Like the audience,(all three of us at the afternoon show),Swofford and his sniper buddies are mere passive observers not active participants.

It could have been tedious.It wasnt.The quality of the camera work and scenery was engrossing.
The scenes of burning wells,the black oil rain and Swoffords chat with a charred corpse were notable for their understatement.The harsh desert is portrayed as another enemy like boredom and frustration.
This isnt an in your face, join the dots kind of movie.
"We're still in the desert" the final line in the voice-over is ambiguous.It could refer to Swoffords own personal life journey or refer to the continuing Iraqi situation.
An intriguing adaptation of a book which I also recommend for its insights into the American military and society in general.

The Unbearable Weight of Chocolate

St Valentines Day
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Well St Valentines Day has been and gone.The red and white posters and chocolate displays have been replaced by blue and white ones.
In Japan they do things differently.
And so with St Valentines Day.
On February 14th,here women give their male co-workers,friends,husbands and fathers chocolate and gifts.
Chocolate given to bosses and co-workers is known as "giri-choco" or obligation chocolate.
On March 14th in a kind of reciprocal arrangement (or a savvy business move for the cynically minded),those who received are coerced into giving flowers,cookies and other gifts.
Ingenious.It fills the commerical gap between New Years and Easter.The difficult part is remembering who gave me the chocolate in the first place.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Nagoya Port Aquarium

Nagoya Port Aquarium
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Spent a few hours wandering round Nagoya Port Aquarium last Friday.Its a three storey complex.It contains five different aquatic regions including Japan,Australia and the Antarctic Ocean.Its one of the bigger aquariums in Japan.
It also has beluga whales, a pod of performing dolphins and a resident killer whale.

There is a huge tropical tank stocked with small sharks,stingrays and colorful fish inhabiting the fake coral reef that dominates the tank.Very peaceful and relaxing to contemplate.
Till some idiot uses his flash.Fish take fright,Dart every which way.Scattered scales.Frazzled fins.
Staff rebuke foolish photographer.

Another personal favourite is the turtle tank.Of circular design with its own sloping private beach.Each season some turtles clamber up and deposit their eggs in the sand.The eggs are later spirited away to be incubated.
The turtles look graceful as they swim round in their endless circuits.Flippers flapping frantically.

Nor should I forget to mention the antics of the penguins.They have an enclosure which comes with its own cooling system,rocky beach and pool area.You can get a good view of them as they torpedo across the front of their tank.
I skipped the dolphin show having seen it before but recommend the Aquarium as a nice place to chill out and relax despite its hefty 2000 yen admission price.
The area round the Aquarium includes the Port Building, a floating ship museum and a shopping arcade with the usual eating places and tourist shops.

Whaling or Do you want blubber with those fries?

killer whale
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
"But Im Whaling I feel like Jonah
Never mean you no harm" Dave Dobbyn

By sheer chance the day after I visited the Aquarium the Daily Yomiuri ran an article "Japan faces whale meat glut after boosting catch"(Saturday Feb 11 2006)
It seems after increasing its whale catch program in the name of "research" there is now an oversupply of whale meat.Prices have dropped about 30% in the five years up to 2004.
Despite this glut and low consumer demand Tokyo plans to kill in 2006 about 1070 minke whales up 400 from last year.To quote from the paper "Tokyo says the program is needed to establish reliable information on whale populations and habits-data that Tokyo says can only be gleaned by killing them".One trader is quoted thus "Japanese will never forget the taste of whale.Its part of our culture.Its part of our DNA."
While I'm all in favour of respecting culture and tradition there must be some limits placed in terms of reason,legality,science and basic economics.
Why increase the supply of a product that is not in demand.Further oversupply will only drive the price down further.Maybe the logic is that a decrease in prices will make it more attractive to consumers.Particularly given the current problems with U.S beef.
From a scientific stand there must be better ways to gain data than by killing the subject being studied.
If killing is necessary,why in such huge numbers.
Wouldnt a smaller,more selective sample suffice?Then again are these "research hunts" just a euphemism and a way to dodge the International Whaling Commissions ban on commerical whaling?
When does "research" become "commerical" and vice versa?
After visiting the aquarium the thought of whale meatballs and whale spaghetti bolognese doesnt seem so appetizing.


I watched this movie last Friday afternoon.In a near empty theatre.There were only four other people.Hardly a date movie.Its based on the actual events surrounding the Munich Olympic Games massacre and the Israeli response.A thought provoking movie which from my standpoint as a neutral outsider presented both sides even-handedly.The final scenes set in New York against the then standing Twin Towers were powerful if less than subtle.

Not a film I really enjoyed given the subject matter.The violence for a PG12 rated movie was graphic.I flinched several times.Not only when the athletes were killed but also as their terrorist captors were shot.I also have to comment on the sound production.
In the desolate cinema the explosions and gunshots seemed to reverberate and ring, making the experience all the more realistic.
I was troubled not only by the violence but also by the final love scenes between the main character and his wife.Flashbacks of the final fatal minutes of the hostage drama are intercut with the main character also reaching his own climax.It seemed a strange juxtaposition.Ridiculous and,guns and violence.That being said Im glad I made the effort to see Spielbergs skills on a big screen where I could better appreciate them.

While some scenes were stereotypical...its London.. cue the brollies and bowlers or Paris.. lets buy garlic near the Eiffel Tower other set pieces are genuinely thrilling such as an arbortive bomb attempt.
In the end the words of a character in Crime and Punishment sprung to mind.."to condone the shedding of blood on grounds of conscience is in my opinion more terrible than if it were permitted officially by law"...

Monday, February 06, 2006

A freshly fallen silent shroud of snow....

Monday 6 February 2006
"A freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.....

Well February 3 is supposed to be the traditional start of spring here.Mother Nature or Father Global Warming had other ideas and spent most of the week dishing out cold weather and the odd sprinkling of snow.The photos from Saturday in nearby Tsuramai Park which received a very light dusting.
I walked to the train station early Sunday morning as the footpath was covered in treacherous ice.My decision not to bicycle was vindicated by the sight of three cyclists tumbling from their steeds in as many blocks.One fell heavily and arose somewhat dazed and shaken.Makes the wearing of bike helmets seem all the more sensible.

"Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami
I steamed through this 614 page English translation within a week.It was the first novel I've read by this author.There are two main characters in the book and the story chops and changes between the two.Their storylines alternate,converge and resolve.
The story itself was a blend of thriller,fantasy and literary novel.It reminded me a little of Ben Elton meets Douglas Adams "Dirk Gently" novels in the sense mythical characters and reality exist in the same world.Underpinned by deeper ruminations on arcane subjects as "metaphor" and "allegory".I think the main themes are those of family,loss and love.
Not necessairly in that order.
Some interesting minor characters populate and color the book such as talking cats,a philosphy student working as a part-time prostitute, a duo of missing World War 2 soldiers and a Colonel Sanders figure.The author also uses blood as a central motif in various forms such as a womans period,the result of a murder and leeches among others.
My one reservation was that the resolution seemed a little anti-climatic considering what had gone before.A little pat.Still all in all an interesting and diverting piece of writing.I'll return to it and re-read it at a more leisurely pace.To pick up the allusions and nuances in the deeper parts that I glossed over in my haste to discover the conclusion.....

Nagoya TV Tower,Nagoya City Central Japan

Monday 6 February 2006
Nagoya's TV Tower built in 1954 was the first of its kind built in Japan.Obvivously modelled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris it squats in the centre of Hisaya Odori Park in Sakae Nagoya.The tower stands some 180 metres with an observation balcony 100 metres above the busy shoppers.Having recently celebrated its 50th birthday the tower now wears a new silver gleaming coat of paint which makes it all the more resemble a giant meccano set.