Monday, July 30, 2007

Doyou No Ushi No Hi..Eel Day

Today,Monday 30th July marked Doyou No Ushi No Hi or National Eel Day.Based on the lunar calendar "doyou" is an 18 day period before the change in seasons.Thus there is a doyou prior to the start of winter,spring,summer and fall.
Since the Edo period eel has been seen as a cure for natsubate or summer lethargy. (see below for more regarding natsubate).
Eel which is rich in vitamins A and B1 is thought to restore and provide energy during the dog days of a Japanese summer.
Different areas have different ways of preparing and serving eel.Unagi or eel is usually served atop a bed of rice in a ceramic bowl and is known as unadon.When served in a squarish,lacquered box similiar to those used at New Years the dish is known as unaju.As well as unagi, three other kinds of eel are regularly eaten in different parts of Japan; anago,hamo and dojo.
In the Nagoya area however it appears that unagi is the most popular and there are apparently a number of unagi restaurants in the region.

Natsubate..Summer Fatigue

Japan's summer months with its unrelenting heat,high temperatures and humidity coupled with fierce air-conditioning lead to a condition known as natsubate or "summer fatigue".The symptoms include a feeling of lethargy,sleeplessness or insomnia,loss of appetite and energy as well as the odd digestive problem.
These symptoms are exacerbated by sudden changes in weather and temperature changes caused by air conditioning in trains,buses and buildings.
Due to the Arctic atmosphere of their workplaces,some of the students at school bring a yutampo or hot water bottle to work to combat the frigid conditions.
Some students suggested eating certain foods such as eel and fruit such as watermelon and pears to help fight against summer ills by providing minerals and antioxidants to replace those lost in sweat and protect against ultraviolet light.

Upper House Elections

Seventeen days of campaigning for the 121 House of Councillors or Upper House seats ended on Sunday with an election defeat for the ruling coalition parties.Half of the 242 seats ie 121 were up for grabs.If Nagoya was anything to go by,it was a noisy election.Campaign vans seem to crowd the streets from 8a.m every morning.I'm just grateful that the typhoon which swept through Japan brought a temporary respite from the ear-splitting noise of vans decorated with loudspeakers booming down the streets.

The ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner,the New Komeito needed 64 of those 121 seats to maintain its majority.They fell well short with a total of 46 while the opposition led by the Democratic Party picked up 60 odd seats.Smaller opposition parties and independents won the remaining seats.
The main issues appear to have been the governments handling of the pension scheme system and various scandals and gaffes by members of the Abe cabinet.
While Abe,who became PM last September, has slipped in popularity from 70 to 30% he has refused at this stage to resign.An opposition majority in the Upper House could led to a logjam of legislation and slow down contentious changes such as revision of the Constitution or postal reform.It will be interesting to see if there is a leadership change or what effect the result will have on stocks and the Japanese economy in the next few weeks.
The photo above shows an election board with candidates.Beaming confidently from the centre is the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Tajimi City Fireworks Festival

Tajimi City like many other places in Japan has its own fireworks festival.It was held yesterday.Its an all day affair.A sound stage is set up early on the day of the festival.Various dance groups perform during the day.When I left at 10pm there was still a huge audience squatting and sitting in front of the stage by the station.

Various food stalls are set up on both banks of the Toki River near the centre of town where the fireworks are set off.

Another shot of food on offer.It was a humid night and I felt sorry for the people cooking over the hot metal plates.

The fireworks themselves begin promptly at 7:30pm and last for one hour.There are two alternative sites where the fireworks are set off.I tend to favor a bridge that is between the two sites.Some of the fireworks are set off with a background of music such as The Eagles "Desperado" which seems a bit incongruous with the happy family atmosphere that fireworks seem to create.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Flash..Sumo GuideBook Cover

Every year I go to the Nagoya Sumo Tournament Im given a booklet from the Japan Sumo Association along with my ticket and a small gift such as a phone strap.The booklets cover is shown above.The booklet is written in English and not only does it explain the rules and traditions of sumo,the booklet itself makes a good souvenir of the sporting occasion.
As predicted on Monday the Japan Sumo Association promoted Kotomitsuki to the rank of ozeki.He's the first Japanese wrestler to be promoted to ozeki since 2001 and also the oldest wrestler to reach the second highest rank since the start of the six big tournament system in 1958 at the age of 31.It will be interesting to see how he goes as an ozeki and whether he can aspire to the highest rank of yokozuna in the next few tournaments.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Samu-i Sumo

The Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament ended yesterday.Asahoryu claimed another Emperor's Cup victory finishing ahead of Hakuho,who was trying to get his first Emperors Cup as a yokozuna.
As noted already I made it to the third to last day on Friday.I thought I was running late when I arrived at 10am as most days the bouts begin around 8:30.I was in luck as the first bout began at 10:20.I purchased one of the cheaper nose-bleed seats at 4,700 yen and found my plastic seat near the back of the gym.

Now its meant to be the Summer Tournament and outside it was a humid 26 degrees centigrade.But in Row K it was -26 degrees celsius.Someone had set the air-conditioning on the Arctic setting.The vents above Row K spewed forth a virtual solid curtain of ice.Cold currents.The whole day.From 10:20 to 6pm when I left.
Ridiculous.If you check the photo you will see an old lady is wearing a coat to fend off the cold.Others donned scarves and towels.The two skimpily dressed girls beside me wrapped themselves in the mornings paper,much like tramps to combat the Siberian like conditions.Luckily I'd bought a jersey so wore it to retain some body heat and prevent hypothermia.Uncomfortable and marred an otherwise enjoyable day.

As for the sumo itself it remains a highlight of my year.It was disappointing that Kaio pulled out that day but this was more than made for by the earlier antics of Kitazakura and Takamisakari.Kitazakura at 35years old is the oldest wrestler at the makuuchi level and is well known for his exuberant salt throwing displays prior to his matches.Takamisakari,I was reliably informed by the guy next to me is dubbed "RoboCop" given the way he walks and his prematch warmup and gestures.
The photo above shows the colorful dohyo-iri or "entering the ring" ceremony where the wrestlers display their kesho-mawashi or ceremonial aprons in a short ritual.Many different elaborate designs are on display and needless to say a great photo oppurtunity.

As the bouts progressed you notice that not only does the wrestlers and referees gear get more colourful but also the speed and skill increases.
Throughout the day the stadium fills as tour groups arrive.Herded by a flag bearing guide,businessmen saunter in with their guests to sit in the more expensive seats and hordes of schoolchildren invade and take over the cheaper ones in bulk.
This years Nagoya tournament will be memorable because local wrestler Kotomitsuki was fighting for promotion to ozeki rank.Although he missed out on a playoff against Asahoryu for a shot at the Emperors Cup by losing his last bout his winning record should be enough for promotion.
Kotomitsuki received loud support before his match and huge cheers and clapping after he won.His promotion will be considered by the Japanese Sumo Association later in the week.The last shot above shows the view from Row K brrr.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Flash..Nagoya Summer Sumo Tournament

I went along to the thirteenth day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament held in the Nagoya Prefectural Gym adjacent to Nagoya Castle.
I had the above bento mid-morning as I'd woken up late and skipped breakfast.
The bento came in a bag which contained the two polystrene boxes above.
The left hand box contains various vegetables and pickled food as well as a huge prawn lurking on the bottom of the box.The right hand box contains rice on which is shredded egg,a small piece of eel which I almost choked on,pink ginger and orange salmon roe.All of which add flavour to the somewhat overcooked and otherwise bland rice.Not really a bargain at 1500 yen,more a part of the ritual of going to the sumo.
As for the sumo itself,well that can wait till Monday.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ugly Babies and Big Cars

The Nagoya Boston Museum of Fine Arts currently has two exhibitions on show.I biked down last Friday in the tyhphoonal rain to see them.
The first was titled Children in American Art.44 paintings from various American artists ranging from 1670 to 1944.As the program notes suggest the paintings depict changes in how society sees children at first as miniature adults and later as children in their own right.
One of the earlier paintings reminded me almost of a Diane Arbus photo.The child or "man-child" is perched on his sisters knee.He has a huge head,saucer-sized eyes and a five oclock shadow.Really freaky.
Another painting depicts a young girl.Again like the painting above, her physical proportions seem out of kilter with those of a child.It seems she has been put on a rack as her arms appear unnaturally long and her shoulders belong to someone much older.Her pose seemed to exaggerate this physical imbalance.Odd yet strangely rivetting as with the painting above.
Later paintings in the collection appear less forced and natural.There were a couple of Winslow Homer paintings including one showing a young soldier from the Civil War.

A large oil canvas by John Singer Sargent was well displayed with lots of space to examine the painting up close.Not crowded out or cheek by jowl jostling with other pieces for your attention.
Altogether moderately interesting.

The second exhibition on the floor above is entitled American Car Design 1945-1970.
131 pieces illustrating industrial and automobile design in America.On show were various watercolours,graphite drawings,posters and pen and ink designs.
The exhibition has examples of concept cars,exterior and interior designs,commerical vehicles such as tractors and advertising artwork.
Wandering round the display listening to the 1950s soundtrack playing in the background I was surprised how big the cars were back then.Compared to todays space and energy conserving models its quite a contrast.
Huge Oldsmobiles,Plymouths and Cadillacs sporting extravagant tail fins and bumpers.
Larger than my living room.Better air conditioning as well.
Again like the collection above this one was mildly diverting.Both were set up so each piece had enough space to be viewed individually.The light was good so you could easily make out details on some of the older pencil rendered designs on display.
While not essential viewing,I spent about an hour and a half leisurely walking between the two collections which together cost me 1200 yen to view.
Both exhibitions run through to 19th August.

Book Review...Watching The English

Watching The English.The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. Kate Fox.2004.416pages.Hodder and Stoughton.

This is an engaging analysis of what makes the English tick.Its author attempts to set out the rules of Englishness as she sees them.
The book is at the serious end of what might be called "pop anthropology".At the start Fox spends some pages defining various terms she will use through the book to identify Englishness such as "culture","class" and "race".
After the preamble,chapter by chapter she takes on various features such as humour and dress and what part they play in English daily life and society.At the end of each chapter she sums up what that feature adds to the sum total of her rules about Englishness.

It is very detailed.She obvivously spent a lot of time observing and talking to her subject matter.What one plants in your garden and what reading material you have in your loo apparently indicates what social rank you belong to.
Then again its possible to identify a fellows breeding as to whether or not he utters one of "the seven deadly sins" such as "pardon","toilet" or when one uses the word "dinner".(page 76).

The author has an easy-going relaxed self mocking style,often peppered with amusing asides and observations.After having calculated the best way to eat peas,either prongs up or the spear and squash them technique she admits "I really should get a life".(pg 317).
In the conclusion Fox tries to tie up the preceeding chapters with a definitive list of what she sees as the defining characteristics of Englishness.I enjoyed the chapters on humour and conversation including mobile phone useage.To sum up its an intriguing read.Lots of personal observations and comments about human foibles and interaction.
The only major quibble I have involves the books production.The printing is very small.Typeset in monotype sabon,its a very small font type that doesnt lend itself to being read on trains or public transport,the pages often a blur as you take a corner or hit a bump.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Flash

Whats The Story Morning Glory?

I took this shot of a morning glory flower,known in Japan as asagao(literally "morning face") earlier in the week.A popular ornamental plant here,it apparently arrived via China in the ninth century.The vine like creeper with its green foilage and iridescent blooms are a feature of the rainy season and early summer.

That was earlier in the week,for as I type,Typhoon Number 4,so-named as its the fourth of the season, is bearing down on the country.The asagao blooms are all firmly closed.Despite temperatures in the high 20s the rain has stopped them opening.
The typhoon has already hit Okinawa and the bottom of Kyushu and should reach the main island of Honshu on Sunday.Its packing strong winds as the news reports say and has led to flooding,evacuations and travel disruptions.
We are already feeling the effects here in Nagoya as its been constantly raining the last two days here and the humidity level has increased.Almost as though in anticipation of the approaching winds and rain.Evidently some 250mm of rainfall is predicted by the Met Office to fall by this time tomorrow night.

What with the weather playing up and being forced to work a late shift yesterday I slept in this morning.I had fully intended to make my way down to the Nagoya Prefectural Gym and take in day six of the Nagoya Summer Sumo Tournament.But having slept in and keeping a weary eye on the weather I didnt make it.Still theres another week to go so I should totter down there early next Friday,alarm clock willing.
Not only the weather put me off but also the fact that two wrestlers had already pulled out including Baruto with another knee injury after just the first day.Ive only seen the 1.97 metre 172 kilo Estonian once live in action at Nagoya so was disappointed I wont see him in action again this year...

Monday, July 09, 2007

KiwiFruit KitKats

Another addition to the expanding range of KitKats.I found these KiwiFruit KitKats at my local convenience store over the weekend.I found the colour,kind of vivid limey a little off putting and unnatural.
The KitKats themselves did have a distinct kiwifruit taste and were quite tasty.The chocolate around the kitkat biscuits tended to melt in your fingers due to the humidity and heat of the day and I think they would be best consumed after being put in the fridge.If you can wait that long that is...

Shiny Shiny Monk

Teru Teru Bozu are traditional handmade dolls made of tissue paper or cloth.They are said to have magical powers to bring good weather and stop rainy days.They appear hanging outside windows during the rainy season.
Teru is a Japanese verb for sunshine while bozu is Japanese for monk literally then shiny shiny monk.
Today children make them to wish for sunny weather before a special event,say a sports festival or school outing.
Apparently to ward off the rain you must hang them head up.Hanging them upside down is said to have the opposite effect though some of my students doubted this.They were also unsure as to the fate of those dolls that failed to prevent rain.
However should they be successful,one tradition holds that you paint a face on the doll,pour some sake over its head and throw it into a river having accomplished its mission.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Flash..Cheap Snack

Too hot and tired to cook or indulge in the fast food of the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet that spews out its fatty fumes daily from 7:30am to 11pm at the foot of my apartment building I happened upon this lunchbox at a local supermarket.Seems a relative bargain at 298yen.Certainly more colorful and nutritious than the oil saturated offerings five floors below.
Thirty odd degrees celsius today and very humid with omninous clouds building up.Theres a likelihood of a brief respite from the sticky weather if it rains.Though its only passing relief as the temperature and humidity rise to evaporate the puddles from the spent shower clouds.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Athletes Foot and Panda Pooh

Been a strange week.Both weather-wise and at work.Often strange topics of conversation arise.Take on a life of their own.Like panda pooh.
Apparently because the panda dines solely on bamboo,panda pooh smells sweet.Not sure how this topic originated nor how one goes about checking the veracity of such a claim with pandas being so rare.

The other unusual subject that caught students interest and "ran" as it were for a couple of classes was athletes foot.This foot infection is particularly common during the fetid,inclement rainy season.Moisture,sweating and a lack of proper ventilation of the feet all combine to provide the ideal environment for the fungal infection to thrive.
Symptoms vary.For some sufferers the skin between their toes peels,cracks and scales.Others suffer redness,scaling and blisters.These symptoms may also be accompanied by itching and a burning sensation if the skin is scratched.

Translated literally from Japanese mizumushi means "water insect".There are reportedly around 20-30 million people afflicted with this infection.(Japan Times August 12 2001).Chemist shops and supermarket shelves formerly loaded with masks and pollen allergy cures during spring have been restocked with various bottles,liquids and ointments for athletes foot as it seems to be more prevalent at this time of year.

As an aside other foot problems came to light.Bunions appear to be mainly a problem for women due to wearing tight fitting shoes as opposed to athletes foot which afflicts both men and women.Bunions are called tako in Japanese which as well as being the word for such callus and corns is also the word for octopus.
Bunions can also be called mame a word also used for bean.Never to be confused for the word mune or breast particularly when ordering a snack with your beer.

Spotted this new shop sign in Osu last week.Not sure what kind of shop it is as it was shuttered up at the time.Nor am I sure that such an odd name will attract customers.It will be interesting to see how long it stays in business.