Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Flash...Brazilian BonBons

It never ceases to amaze me the variety of imported foods one can find here.Case in point these Brazilian sweets in the photo above.
During the week I read somewhere that Japan was the world's largest food importer and is reliant on five countries including the U.S,China and Australia for more than 70% of its farm imports.
I also found interesting that on one hand Japans "food mileage"(ie the amount of food transported times the transport distance) is about 5 times that of Britain and 3 times that of South Korea and of the U.S.
On the other hand according to a government white paper 19 million tons of food is thrown away each year as waste in Japan.Food for thought..

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dean and Deluca Strawberry Ice Cream

There seems no rhythm or reason which stores stock Dean and Deluca ice cream.One would expect to see it in urban central city areas rather than random rural shops.
Anyways,the discovery of a new point of sale and flavour just add to the experience.
This latest discovery is California Strawberry.While not as disappointing as last weeks pistachio I again felt it was missing something.
It looks promising enough after you lift the plastic cover.You are presented with a pinkish mottled rosy surface.I was hoping that there would be some silvers of strawberry included.Unfortunately like last week its more of a pureed mixture.
While there is evidence of a strawberry flavour within,its quite subtle.
I cant really rate this highly.It didnt have me wishing there was more or entice me to buy another one.

Access all areas

An article in The Japan Times May 17th caught my eye.Headlined "English schools target middle-aged,elderly" it outlines various language schools attempts to attract middle aged and elderly students.
It appears that the traditional support base of young 20-30 year old company employees has become saturated and some schools are introducing courses for older students.
Provision has been made in some organisations to provide textbooks with bigger print and times more convenient for the more mature students to attend classes.

All well and good.I just hope these schools have thought about the physical constraints and limits both age and Japanese building design impose on people.School premises should be easily accessible.Not just for aged but also for young children.
I can understand that a ground floor,street level space costs more to rent than say ninth floor premises.
That stated,a steep set of stairs like those above or a small slow elevator must act as a deterrent to prospective customers.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Flash..Sicilian Pistachio Ice Cream

Another Dean and Deluca offering.Unfortunately its not one of their better efforts.
On peeling back the plastic cover one is presented with the beige,bland contents.It looks similar to window putty or grout.
The label states that the ingredients include pistachio paste.I was expecting some pieces of pistachio nuts embedded in the ice cream but to no avail.
It didnt taste nutty.It didnt taste of anything.It reminded me of tofu.
I wouldnt recommend sampling it considering there are better alternatives in this range.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pretty in Pink

Crazy week work-wise.The branch school I worked at over the last few weeks closed Thursday.As part of a company realignment those branches located in supermarket malls will be relocated.The new schools will be smaller often having just one instructor and open for fewer days each week.Thursday was very busy with myself and the other instructor working at near full capacity each lesson while the staff toiled away packing and getting ready for the big move.
On Friday I started at my new school.Its virtually in the completely opposite direction to the one I was working at the day before.On the plus side it is some 10 minutes closer to home though some 30 yen more expensive each fare.There were no lessons scheduled that day.I welcomed the break after the busy week and I used the time to set up and organise texts and files in preparation for the next day.

The new school features larger cubicles better able to accomodate five student classes.It also has these flashy pink panels or room dividers as opposed to the older windowed rooms.
A lamp is suspended above each table.Unfortunately it appears to be similar to those in restaurants used to keep food warm.After one day working under it Ive got scorch marks on my scalp.Im contemplating removing the bulbs.

The only real quibble Ive got is the punctuation of some of the idioms that feature on the room dividers.I did a double take when I saw the room divider in the photo above.
Surely not good for company credibility!

The Great War for Civilisation...Book Review

The Great War for Civilisation Robert Fisk.2005.Harper Perennial.1286 pages.

This hefty paperback covers the author's 30 or so years covering Middle East affairs.He writes of places such as Afghanistan,Algeria,Iraq,Iran,Israel and Syria and figures such as King Hussein,Arafat,Blair,Bush and Bin Laden among others.
It is also part autobiographical as he writes of his upbringing and his parents.
While noting firstly,that I lack the necessary historical background,first hand knowledge and experience to authoritatively question his views and secondly,this blog is hardly the place to debate weighty matters of state,some things are worth mentioning.
Fisk has strong views on the role of journalists and their freedom to report and criticise as they see fit."Our job is to record,to point the finger when we can,to challenge those centres of power..."pg1280.He doesnt seem a big fan of embedded journalism and decries the practice of "hotel journalism"pg 1239.

He's also critical of the way that language can be manipulated and how a word like "terrorism" can be misused."Terrorism" is a word that has become a plague on our vocabulary,the excuse and reason and moral permit for state-sponsored violence-our violence..."pg464.He writes of skewed semantics where some incidents are reported as "tragedies" and others as "massacres".
Theres also an interesting chapter on what Fisk calls the First Holocaust( Chapter 10,page 388) and the usage of the word Holocaust.Does one use a capital 'H' only for the Jewish Holocaust?

I found his accounts of the civilian casualties,particularly those of children harrowing.Equally horrific were his graphic descriptions of various forms of torture.It seems there is no end to the creativity and methods used to inflict pain upon one's enemies.
In the final paragraph of the book he sums up his thoughts thus.."In the end we have to accept that our tragedy lies always in our past,that we have to live with our ancestors' folly and suffer for it,just as they in turn,suffered,and as we,through our vanity and arrogance ensure the pain and suffering of our own children"pg 1286.

All in all I found this an interesting albeit difficult read.If you are interested in one insiders views about the politics and background to the Middle East situation today then this book provides a very good basis to begin.Theres a select bibliography that also provides sources for further study.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Flash..Some Local Photos

Been a busy week.One of the schools Ive been working at closed this week.As part of the company restructuring plan schools currently in supermarket chains will be relocated to other premises.Cheaper and smaller.While it appears there are more schools and chances to have lessons it is problematic as most will only have one instructor and arent open seven days a week.It seems pretty pointless to give students the ability to book their teachers over the internet if theres only one or two available.
Im starting at a new location today which will be my new home school.Have to wait and see how it pans out.

Just a quick note that Ive added a "Frequent Feature" section on the page.Just click on the relevant button.The labels are fairly general,for example,the Japanese food section contains a mixture of past bento,cake and confectionery shots.
Finally I must give credit for the two photos in todays section to my mate Peter.Cheers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review..The Gum Thief

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland.
While I enjoyed some of the images,reflections and wordplay I dont think this is one of the authors better efforts.
It seems he's just tinkered with his original successful style.Changed the setting from a modern cutting edge workplace to a more mundane stationery and office supply superstore.Increased the ages of some of his characters.
The storyline revolves loosely around the notebook diary entries of a middle-aged employee and his younger female co-worker.Its a pretty loose conceit because both the male characters ex-wife and the female co-workers mum also get in on the act and have their own entries and written accounts.
The novel felt lighter and less well constructed than some of his earlier works.As proof I offer the "Mr Rant" character to support my claim.He appears to be nothing more than a series of one-liners.A stand up comedian.Admittedly pretty funny ones.But still is it possible for one individual to hold views and opinions on such diverse things as potato skins,people who dislike using mircowave ovens and those who whistle tunelessly?Nothing more than a series of humorous asides the author wanted to include in the book but had no other way of doing.
That said,as stated above I was amused by some of his thoughts on family,relationships and getting older.All subjects that appear in earlier novels.It seems though there was more written about the issue of ageing than in other offerings.The idea that after a certain age one becomes virtually invisible.Not an original idea but one he develops ..."The fact that they dont see me means that Im truly old,and its hard to grow old in a place-a city-where everything is so young.Being old means no sex.Being old means never being flirted with"pg37.
The problem I have recommending this book is that there arent enough such insights.In the end the author seems to be coasting and treading water with this work.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Flash...Bento

A more expensive bento from a chain of lunchbox shops in a local supermarket.
Top left are a couple of potato croquettes.Below the croquettes are two slices of meat atop small helpings of potato salad.
Bottom right are three chicken nuggets complete with lump of cream cheese sitting on a bed of lettuce.
The original asking price was 780 yen but was reduced later in the day to 680 yen.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The World Of Monet..Nagoya Boston Museum

Currently showing at the Nagoya Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Nagoya is an exhibition entitled The World of Claude Monet.
There are 25 Monet works on show as well as paintings by some of his contemporaries such as Degas,Renoir and Manet.
There is only one of his waterlily paintings on display.Its the last item on the guide and takes centre stage in the final room of paintings.

For me,however,the real highlights came earlier.Monet seemed to have a thing about haystacks and painted numerous ones at different times of the day.The example included in this exhibition appeared to light up and illuminate the whole area.
Examining the canvas closely,(I could virtually touch the paintings glass with my nosetip as there is a welcome absence of barriers or ropes),it appears to a series of haphazard,indiscriminate daubs and brushstrokes of paint.It is only stepping back from the wall that the whole thing coalesces and you can see the graduations and transition of light which Monet and the other Impressionists were trying to convey.The whole haystack seems to hum and vibrate.
The other highlight was a painting of Rouen Cathedral.Again up close what seems to be a smattering of blue oil paint and a smudge of brown reveals itself from a metre away to be the front doors of the cathedral.I got a sense of the permanence and solidness of the building.Again it seems that Monet painted a Rouen Cathedral series depicting it at various times of the day capturing it at dawn and sunset.

There were also several ukiyo-e woodblock prints from memory by Hiroshige and Hokusai that show the influence this form of art had on the painter.
A painting of a windblown tree has obviously been informed by a similiar Japanese composition while the hills,gorges and cliffs seem to echo earlier Japanese efforts.

All in all an interesting collection of paintings.Im glad that this exhibition came here rather than the smaller Nagoya City Museum as there is a little bit more space to display the paintings.Less ducking and diving.Fewer people intruding on your personal space and thoughts.More space for each painting to be hung without overpowering its neighbour.
The exhibition runs until September 28th and admission is 1,200yen.Closed Mondays unless its a public holiday otherwise the next day.

Kodomono No Hi...Childrens Day May 5th

Kodomono No Hi or Childrens Day is celebrated May 5th each year during the Golden Week break.The national holiday which began as Boys Day in 1948 has changed nominally into Childrens Day though the emphasis remains on celebrating the strength and health of the young male members of families.
There is of course a Girls Day,Hinamatsuri,celebrated earlier in the year March 3 but this day,unlike May 5th,lacks the status or recognition of a National Holiday.
Traditionally families fly flags of carp shaped banners and also display in their homes a kubuto or samurai style military helmet.Both carp and helmets are symbols of strong and healthy boys.
Many department stores have replica sets of samurai armour,swords and helmets ranging in price from 30,000yen to several hundred thousand yen depending on the size and quality of the materials used.
The photo above shows a small ceramic helmet while the figure below is holding a carp ornament in his left hand.Both carp and helmets are associated with Childrens Day.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Flash..Subway Pass

Ive been purchasing these prepaid subway cards known locally as Yurika cards.Available in a range of prices from 1000yen to 5000yen you get an additional 600 yen credit when you purchase the 5000yen card.The cards can be purchased at various subway stations.
As Ive been travelling a lot recently and the average one way trip is around 260 yen I seem to be buying a card once every three weeks or so.
The station master logo on the cards incorporate one of the golden shachi or gold killer whale statues that grace the top of Nagoya Castle and are a symbol of the city.