Monday, April 28, 2008

Golden Week 2008

Golden Week is upon us once again.That week or so of assorted unrelated national public holidays in which many people take the opportunity to take a vacation.Many head overseas.Others back to their hometowns.Others to their local shopping malls.
Among the ragbag collection of national holidays celebrated are the Showa Emperors birthday celebrated 29th April,Constitution Day on May 3 and Childrens Day on May 5th.
The holiday break is prolonged as Greenery Day usually celebrated on May 4 which falls on a Sunday this year moves to Tuesday May 6th instead.
While most people get at least all or some public holidays off I shall be working as normal.
This year promises to be even busier than usual as two of the schools I go to will close and possibly relocate mid May and the class capacity of each lesson has expanded.Instead of a maximum of 4 students the maximum number per class is 5 students per lesson.
If the last two weeks are anything to go by,I can well imagine teaching 8 full lessons each day over the next week or so.

Food Prices
Ive noticed over the last two or three months that food prices here have slowly increased.Obviously this is down to the rising cost of oil and transport costs.It does however raise a few questions.Why should a can of imported Italian tomatoes retail for less than a can of locally grown and tinned tomatoes?108 yen as opposed to 118yen.
Surely the transport costs or even the carbon footprint of the Italian tin far outweigh those of the domestic produce?
Another oddity I came across was that a pack of 25 teabags can vary in price from 198yen to 238yen.This difference isnt between different shopping chains but individual branches within the same group.Its only 40 yen but if one is on a budget then it all adds up.
You would also think that large supermarket chains due to their scale would be able to offer produce and fruit at competitive prices yet as far as bananas are concerned it seems the small greengrocer I visit still offers better value for money.I refuse to pay 40 or 50 yen a banana.
More worrying is the slow,inexorable increase in the price of lunchboxes.Most are now fixed around the 450-500yen mark.It seems from a casual glance more are increasingly priced over the 500 yen mark which for many may be a psychological barrier as it involves spending more than one large coin for lunch.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Flash...Green Tea and Chocolate Bagels

These green tea and chocolate bagels are available for purchase at a local department store.They have an unusual appearance,a light green tinge that sets them apart from the run of the mill cheese or poppy seed varieties.
As to the taste,they are slightly bitter,given that the green tea flavour is quite strong but this is tempered by the presence of small bits of chocolate in the bagels thick doughy mixture.
While I'd recommend trying them Im not so sure I'd go for seconds.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pterodactyl Exhibition

It seemed somewhat apt having celebrated my birthday during the week to waddle down to see this exhibition of fossils and dinosaur bones and skeletons.
Currently on display in the Nagoya City Science Museum the exhibition is divided between two rooms in two different buildings.

The centrepiece of the whole display was a giant plastic model of a pterodactyl hanging from the ceiling of the main exhibition room.Strung below this model is a skeleton of the real thing.As well as various fossil samples found embedded in stone and earth there were also tv monitors presenting short excerpts of a BBC TV documentary on dinosaurs.

While the small number of fossils and skeletons on show were impressive I was less enthused by the way they were displayed.Most of the flying winged examples are just hanging from the ceiling.Im not asking for a full three dimension forest or scene around them but it seemed a little amateurish having them displayed near bare brick walls or black curtains.A simple cardboard backdrop would have been enough.It kind of reminded me of those plastic model airplane kits you made in your youth and then suspended from the bedroom ceiling.

If one also takes into account that tickets werent exactly cheap at 1200yen for adults,800yen for students and 500yen for children aged 6 to 15 years I didnt feel it was worth it.Billed as Sky Monsters-The Worlds Largest Pterodactyl Exhibition it runs until June 15th.

Soya Bean Flour KitKats

A new flavour of mini pack KitKats appeared on the shelves of a supermarket I visited last week.As my current employer deems it necessary to send me to the four corners of Nagoya City Ive been frequenting some unfamiliar suburbs recently.Its interesting to see how prices vary not only between chains but also individual stores.Ive only seen these mini kitkats available in two or three areas.
As to the kitkats themselves the filling is kinako or soya bean flour.Not especially sweet tasting they do seem a bit "floury" and have a thicker consistency compared to other kitkats.Not particularly memorable or provocative enough to try again.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Flash..Tuna Bento and Green Tea Cake

Thick slices of tuna sitting on a small finger like portion of rice.The tuna is adorned with mayonnaise and chopped spring onions.

A slice of green tea flavoured sponge cake.On the top left is a green tea meringue biscuit which is quite chewy.The biscuit and the dollops of cream sit on a green tea cream like filling.Wedged between the green tea cream layers is a thick green tea flavoured sponge which provides some stability to the whole structure.
The green tea flavour is quite smooth and mild compared to other green tea products such as chocolate that Ive tasted.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why the Long Face? Modigliani Retrospective

The latest exhibition at the Nagoya City Art Museum is entitled Amedeo Modigliani Retrospective.It started April 5th and runs till June 1st.
There are some 60 works on show,mainly oil on canvas and pencil sketches.I dont recall seeing any of his sculpture works on display.
There were examples of his nude and portrait works selected from various art galleries and museums around the world including pieces from New York and Europe as well as offerings from Japan.
Born in Tuscany,Modigliani received his early formal training in Rome influenced by the Renaissance and nineteenth century Italian artists.
Moving to Paris in 1906 his work was further influenced by contemporary artists such as Lautrec and Cezanne as well as different genres of art such as sculpture and primitive art from Africa and Egypt.
From this melting pot of various art forms,movements and artists,Modigliani seems to have formed his own unique style that looks both back and forwards.Take for example his portraits.Most have distinctive almond shaped eyes akin to early Egyptian painting and sculpture.Sometimes the eyes have no details just a green daub of paint in the sockets.Vaguely unsettling.Like the character who paints the future in the Heroes series.
Many of those portrayed also seem to have excessively long thin faces and elongated necks.Again both features of early primitive art.Think Celine Dion.
Some of the faces also possess flattened,twisted and off centred noses which may have influenced later Cubist artists with their penchant for breaking down a still life or figure into a series of squares and rectangles.
The exhibition also has a small section dedicated to the painting of the reclining nude and Modiglianis works in this area. Unfortunately as there were no English language notes it was well nigh impossible for me to make much of it apart from noticing he seems to have been influenced by Renaissance and Romantic artists and in turn influenced other artists such as Gauguin.
My personal art bible The Big Book of Art states on page 370 that "Amedeo Modigliani's modern nude encapsulates the tradition of the reclining female in all its forms and is able to be openly sexual and provocative".
The portraits of reclining nudes on display all seemed to have been painted in front of dark coloured backgrounds.This added to and contrasted with the pink,reddish hues of the subjects.
There is a final section in the exhibition that lists some of Modiglianis friends and contemporaries such as Picasso and Riveria.It seems that Modigliani painted all their portraits at one time or other.
To sum up then, an interesting exhibition.Theres not an overwhelming amount of material on display as with the Hokusai show last month.Nor are there the oppressive crowds present,invading ones thoughts and personal space.The notes as one enters the gallery speak of a melancholy,depressing element in his works.I actually found his use of darker tones and sombre colours refreshing after the recent colourful woodblock print displays.Tickets are 1,300 yen.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Flash...Delicious Potato

Another product that was fleetingly on sale over the last two weeks were these potato chips.Just as ephemeral as cherry blossoms they seem to have disappeared almost as quickly from the supermarket shelves.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pollen Allergy...A ManMade Plague

Amid the pink petalled cherry blossoms this week one can see people wearing all manner of masks and googles such as the Hello Kitty ones above to protect themselves against hay fever or kafunsho.
Simply defined kafunsho is the allergic reaction to airborne pollen most notably sugi(cedar) and hinoki(cypress) pollen which is prevalent at this time of year.
After World War 2 some seven million hectares of cedar and cypress was planted to provide timber for rebuilding.According to Alex Kerr in his book"Dogs and Demons The Fall of Modern Japan".."by 1997 Japan had replanted 43% of all its woodland with a monoculture of coniferous trees,mostly sugi,or Japanese cedar"pg 53.
An article in The Japan Times last week quoted a Forest Agency figure of "Almost a fifth of Japans land mass is planted with cedar and cypress trees."The Japan Times Saturday April 5th 2008 p 3.
It is these trees which produce the main source of pollen allergy rather than the traditional native broadleaf mix of maple,cherry and pine trees together with bamboo and grasses.

The 2001 edition of Kerrs book states that "Allergy to sugi pollen,an ailment almost unknown a few decades ago,now affects 10% of all Japanese"(page 53).
It appears that the percentage of the population annually affected however is increasing if the figures in The Japan Times are to be believed."...the allergens that affect as many as 20 million Japanese in March and April,or 16% of the population"and later in the same article "Almost 30% of Tokyo's population had symptoms of pollen allergies in 2006,up from 20% a decade earlier" The Japan Times Saturday April 5 2008 page 3.
One possible reason for this increase in the number of people affected is climatic.With warmer,longer summers providing favourable flowering conditions pollen levels increase the following season.
Other possible reasons include an aging population and rural depopulation which means that there are fewer local people able to prune,maintain and log these areas.Plus one must factor in the reduced Forest Agency workforce 7,000 in 2001 according to Kerr."Dogs and Demons"pg 54.
Nor should one forget that since World War 2 Japans dependence on cheaper imported timber has increased making the local product uneconomic to manage.
As for the trees themselves,planted after the War,most would be mature enough to produce pollen.And in the case of the long lived sugi,capable of releasing pollen for 300 or more years.
Locally in Nagoya and the surrounding region cedar pollen makes its presence felt from mid February to early April while hinoki or cypress pollen makes its appearance from early April to mid May.
The amount of pollen varies both on an annual and daily basis according to the weather.Judging from the nightly TV pollen forecast during the pollen season,days that are clear,warm and have variable winds are the worst ones for allergy sufferers.

Saturdays Japan Times article also notes that some 183 billion yen could be lost in April and May as sufferers stay home and reduce their spending.Nothing is stated as to whether cedar or cypress forests are being decreased or whether any non allergic strains are being developed as measures against the ailment.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday Flash..More Spring Photos

Another shot from Okazaki Castle showing one of the walking paths in the grounds of the Castle.

Another view of the Castle.Unfortunately the Castle and grounds are located in an urban area and the presence of apartment buildings and overhead power cables dont add anything to the atmosphere.

A shot of some of the drinks available lately.The labels and colours of the drinks and beverages change to match the foilage and hues of the season.

The final shot above shows a bento again sporting spring colours with pink being prominent.