Tuesday, 28 August 2007

It's LOUD!!

At first, my post was going to talk about a very loud bug I failed to mention in my previous bug-bashing post. But, at the specific moment in time, the loudness has been eclipsed by a snoring man, asleep in his private internet cafe booth. I suppose someone should wake him up but really, the net cafe's being paid his the time he spends sleeping. And being in a booth, he's paying more. So it's more good business practice that I make sure this net cafe has the profits to stay open since I need it.

Anyway, back to my planned idea. One bug I forgot to mention was the cicada, famously (perhaps only to me) described by a certain Jeremy Clarkson as one of the world's most useless animals. According to Wikipedia, everyone's favourite non-source of information, it's also known as a jar fly and has what is basically a drum on its belly. It's actually more of a washboard stomach, I suppose, and as they flex this membrane, it makes an awful racket. Awful enough that they drive away birds. Yet they're around 2 inches in length.

So, the bird repelling cicada was supposed to be one of the loudest things I've heard in Japan but that's since been replaced by Mr. Snore. Of course, all of that pales in comparison to these political broadcast cars that come around during voting times.

No really, imagine that but about 7 or 8 of them. As you can probably guess by the speakers atop the (seemingly overloaded) car, people drive around in them asking you to vote for whoever they're working for- Ms. Ishii, in this case. The speech is usually rife with "Thank you"s and "We appreciate"s but overall, they trundle around town waving at you with white gloved hands and asking you to vote.

I was told Japan is famous for these but I had never heard of them until I came here. And they're LOUD. Piercing through the tranquility that is the quite suburban town of Sugito, these are about the only things that drown out the sound of the cicada. It's supposed to be an expression of free speech expressed to the max which is interesting because in pretty much every other aspect of Japanese life, keeping quiet and keeping to yourself is paramount to anything else. Talking on your phone on the train, for instance, is a huge cultural faux pas.

Being Japan, of course, there are rather extreme versions of these glorified speeches-on-wheels and that would be the blacked-out ultra-nationalist micro-van that was zooming around Tokyo while Richard took me on tour. He explained that they're basically people fed up with foreigners and that they were driving around telling everyone to go home, with much derogatory-nessness to their words.

They've even gone so far as to screech to a stop, jump out, and beat up the unfortunate foreigner closest to the van- sort of like those old Hong Kong gangster movies. Again, speech is free so why not speak freely?? Beating people up isn't allowed, but booting around Tokyo in a perilously unstable-looking black van is, so the abuse that right.

It's instances like these that really confound the new guy in Japan. I mean, there are so many unspoken rules and etiquette codes yet total violation of them is seemingly possible so long as you can justify with some law somewhere that you are allowed to. But the easy solution to it all is........ when in Rome..... although I don't intend on paying to sleep at the net cafe. That isn't really something practiced by the "Romans" here......... Speaking of which, he's just stopp- oh no, wait, he hasn't........... oh well haha.......

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"kirei". It means pretty or beautiul. Feel free to toss the word around to your lover or friend or friend-with-benefits or whathaveyou. Do not, however, feel as free to toss around the word "kirai" when talking about your life partner's aesthetics. That word happens to mean hate and it would also happen to have you life partner-less. A malfunction of the brain-mouth connection wouldn't be very pretty. Once again, why two polar opposite words must sound so similar is beyond me. At some point I will say "Wow, I really think that pollution is gorgeous!!". Graceful, no??
But how ungraceful I may be was in rather stark contrast to some of the grace I witnessed at the Wado-Kai National Competition over the weekend. It was two days filled with kata, kumite, wins, losses, and all around learning through observation.

"The 43rd Wado-Kai National Karate Competition"

Saturday's events took place at the rather large Urayasu Gym, conveniently (and distractingly) located across the street from Tokyo Disneyland. I watched kumite all day mostly because my lack of Japanese understanding meant I didn't know there was a seperate gym where the kata competition was located. Of course, the file of people wandering up the staircase outside should have tipped me off but............ well........ I won't make any excuses haha........

On sunday, the finals were at the impressive Nippon Budokan (that the Budokan in the picture above) in the heart of Tokyo. An extremely thoughtfully designed place surrounded by a nice park, it was a great place for the best of the Wado-Kai to show their wares.

It's pretty impossibly to describe all that I saw but it was eye opening in that there is much for me to learn both about competing and about being at a level to compete comfortable. But one thing that's for sure is that without competing, you really have no idea where you stand. You can volley a ball or deke a puck all day long but without playing a game, you don't know how useful or effective it will be. Competition improves the breed, and so shall the improvement begin.

Above would be Arakawa Sensei dismantling his opponent in his Team Kumite match.

And this is Furuhashi Sensei enroute to yet another of his many Wado National Kata gold medal wins.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

They say drowning is the most peaceful of all death...

It's supposed to feel like you're falling asleep as the water fills your lungs and you float (well, sink) off quietly to that light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, the typical question that follows is, how does anyone who has REALLY drowned tell anyone else how great it really is?? It's not like you can undrown yourself for death is a rather permanent occasion in one's life. Nor are people dunking their heads in toilets in an attempt to cure their insomnia. Or calling in sick- "I'm sorry, I really can't come to work today. I drowned last night. But I think I should be ok for next week."

You could argue, I suppose, that almost drowning and then being resuscitated gives you a fair idea of what it's like to drown completely and that may be so. And if that is the case, then living in Japan gives you a fair idea of what it's like to be cannabalized.

The insects here, you see, are extreme in many ways, all of them bad. First off, there are lots of them. Humidity and heat seem to favour exoskeletal beings and Japan is proof of that- you just can't get away from the fact that they are everywhere.

And they're huge, too. I saw a bee about 4 or 5 feet away from me in Chiba and it was the first time I ever managed to flat out see every strand of hair on a bee. Or pretty much be able to count its wings beating. And then there are the tiny gnats or spiders you find conveniently hiding exactly where you need to be. And the mosquitos. Viscious little buggers that'll eat you alive with multiple bites the span of ten seconds.

The bites, of course, swell to look like giant tumours on your arm. Or my arm anyway as it seems native Japanese people don't have any problems with them. One of the bites I had on my calf got swollen enough that I could barely walk for a day. How sad is that?? To be defeated by a bug.

Good thing though that the swelling happened on the weekend so it didn't really interfere with training, which has picked up this past week because of the huge tournament that's coming this weekend. I'll be going- not competing this time around, but I will bring back lots of pictures and attached commentary. And, being indoors, it'll be a good escape from the bugs.

OH! And one more thing. After going to the Sekiyado-Jo with Hachi last week, I found this rather amusing facility in a nearby mall.

Sounds like quite the party- some snippin' and some twiddlin'. The favourite "pastime" of many people I'm assuming. Although I don't even know what a pas-TEE-mey is (note the digital sarcasm =P)...........

Two points for anyone who guesses what this store offers........

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"poi". You use it by attaching it to the end of any adjective to create a word that means "like (adjective)". For example, if you're walking around in dress, you're rather "woman-poi". If you're fanning yourself with a flourescent pink hand fan, it's a bit "gay-poi". A girl dressed like Avril Lavigne is a bit "punk-poi". And in around Tokyo, you often see the first two "pois" a bit often. Men with purple plaid pants and green shirts that say "Lovin the best of the environment is the sweetest uniform for life!!". Or styling themselves in the faint reflection of the train window. Of course, they're not ALL like that. I would say under 10% of men are like that. So just low enough that you know they're the rarity but just enough that you can't get away from it.
But, like everything else in Japan, there's a time and/or a place for it. Example- I went back to Akihabara to look for some items a friend wanted me to get. You will never ever see any of the above mentioned men loitering around the multitude of anime/comic shops, electronics shops, and model toy shops. Instead, as you might expect, you see lots of guys with t-shirts tucked into their jeans, very large glasses perched atop oily noses, and a rather "always looking at the floor" lack of confidence. And BO- a few of them tend to smell like they only left their room to buy another comic to peruse.

I say this because I've been here a little over and month now and one thing to realize about Japan is that it is incredibly image conscious. Like, super duper you-just-wouldn't-believe-how-dressing-apprioriately-will-solve-all-your-problems image conscious. Those anime lovers may not be dressing like that on purpose, but believe me, talking the talk is sometimes more important than walking the walk.

If you're going painting, you will get all decked out in painter's coveralls and a bandana and buy some fancy paint brushes even if you only intend to show up and sit around. If you're going to a soccer match you will not only have the right clothes to play in, but the right kind of sports wear to travel to and from the field. Everyone has to be able to see what you're doing without you ever having to say a single thing.

The worst, however, is when you see a Japanese girl on a date with some foreigner (and white guys are usually the worst). As Richard so knowingly pointed out, the girl is on the date because she's bored of "regular" Japanese guys and it's a great chance to practice her English (that, apparently, is a huge deal). The guy is on the date because he's a guy. But the girl, being Japanese, will get all dressed up according to whatever lifestyle she has in an effort to look her best. The white guy will be in shorts and a t-shirt, sandals, be unshaved, and usually have some kind of dirty ponytail going on. Think average American scrub and you get the picture.

The Japanese call it "dasai", (yes, you get two words this week =P ) which is when you're not dressed appriopriately, either for the occassion or on a whole. White foreigners tend to be very dasai.

And thus, in a very round-about way, explains both why the Japanese have such eccentric styles and why dressing the part is so crucial. You have to look the part to play the part, and if you lead an eccentric life then eccentric style broadcasts to the world that you indeed do live that life.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Embassy party!!

Well, the embassy party was at the end of the day. The rest of the day was left for Richard and I to tour Tokyo.

We started out going to see Seiritsu High School, where he works as the International Department Manager and school karate team coach.

From there, we headed to Akihabara- better known as the electronics capital of Tokyo. Tons and tons of stores for all things electronic and otherwise hobby-esque. Replica bb-gun shops to model airplanes to Gundam figurines to comics to video games- it's all there.

After that, we went to the Sumo museum and the Edo-Tokyo museum which chronicles the change from Edo Japan to the more modern Tokyo Japan. That's the Edo-Tokyo Museum in the picture.
From there, we headed to Harajuku to find oddly dressed people although, being a public holiday, they weren't out in full force. But some of those people wear some pretty darn wacky clothes. They don't even usually dress up as anything in particular, they just like giant polka dot cat ears and hooker boots with tutus and stuff. Weird.
Then, two rather large shopping districts are reachable- Shibuya and Shinjuku. As is the rest of Tokyo, each district caters to a specific taste and lifestyle so there's a district to suit your needs and wants. Shibuya is also home to the world's busiest intersection crossing, with what basically boils down to as ensuing madness once the cars stop for the light. It's pretty interesting to be a part of but ever more interesting to watch from the second story giant Starbucks right on the corner.
After that, we headed to the embassy to watch some fireworks (which lasted for an hour!) and met some Canadian officials and embassy workers. The ambassador was there and I saw a bit of his house near the embassy. It looks a bit like the white house. Unfortunately, my camera died so you'll have to wait til I get the pictures from Richard before I can put up more.
But all in all, a whirlwind day- although most of those places in Tokyo deserve a revisited. You can spend more than one day in one district to really see it all and seing as I have many many days left, I intend on doing that.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The grass is green, the sky is blue, the sun is out...

which makes it a sweltering 39 degrees today. And a humidity that, judging by the amount of sweat being produced by everyone I see (and myself) must be at eleventy million.....

But that's ok. Air con in cars meant I could go with Hachisuke sensei (one of the Shiramizu dojo instructors) to the Sekiyado-Jo museum. A Jo is basically a fort, and it's located right on the border between Saitama and Chiba prefectures. In the olden days (like, feudalistic, Tokugawa days; if you know your Japanese history), it was a rather large fort/town during the warring periods. That's me and Hachi in front of the fort gates.

There was some pretty interesting stuff ranging from old old documents to suits of armour to models of how they controlled the flooding river to a seppukku knives display (seppukku, as you may well know, is personal disembowelment, reserved only for those who have truly brought shame upon themselves). Would you have the resolve to disembowel yourself with these knives??

It was pretty interesting to see and at the top, on a clear, non-smoggy day, you're supposed to be able to see Mt. Fuji. But, as is the way things are, it was rather smoggy that day so there wasn't much to see. Although the surrounding country side was rather pretty.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm off on a whirlwind tour of Tokyo with Richard. I'm rather looking forward to that, if not only to be able to speak regular English at a regular speed for some length of time. Richard, this blog, and emails are the occassional Japanese person are the few that I can speak "regular" English to.

Try as I might, I fear I will talk a bit funny for the first few weeks after I return to Canada haha.........

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"budo". As I mentioned in my last post, there are budo universities sprinkled around Japan. Budo essentially translates as the "way of the samurai". It encompasses nearly all facets of martial arts.

And so budo is not only the physical part of martial arts, it's the mental and spiritual side as well. So everything from why your stance should be a certain length or how to generate the most power out of a technique to the rules of a dojo and, probably most important, the way to act around and treat other dojo members.

Takagi Sensei mentioned to me that anyone can train martial arts for a year (I think he was referring to me), but "budo is life". And it more or less is. The ideas and ideals that you learn as applicable to all aspects of life and, unfortunately, it's something you don't see much of or very often the further the martial art travels from Japan. I know of some martial artists who train and compete and have no sense of budo. And that's sad because then you're just a brawler looking for fights........

Speaking of budo, I did finally meet Dr. Takagi (he's a dentist) on saturday. I went with Arakawa Sensei to go to dinner with with Takagi Sensei and another important person, Tania. She's a very nice, very high energy lady from Serbia who was crowned champion at the World's Best Female Martial Artist Challenge. It's a bit overwhelming to be sat next to people of such high calibre but hey, the entire reason why I'm here is to be exposed to these kinds of experiences.

More interestingly is that one of Tania's Serbian friends thought I was Japanese. He travels back and forth from Japan and has decent Japanese so he was a bit shocked when he asked me something and I had no idea what he said. I guess all us asians look alike haha..........

Anyway, this week is "Obon" in Japan. You get a week off and most people travel back to their home towns to be with their family. I, having no family in Japan (nor home town, for that matter), am going to tour Tokyo with Richard Sensei on thursdays. After that, we're going to a party at the Canadian Embassy. I have no idea what am Embassy party is like, but apparently shorts and t-shirts are a-ok.

I suppose if it's real Canadian land I'm on, then the west-coast style still applies heh..........

Friday, 10 August 2007

Web-Lawg: Now with 674% more pictures!!

Yes, as it turns out, loading pictures is stupidly easy. I just never bothered to try until last time. So be sure to check a few of the older posts for some pictures- which we all know is worth a thousand words. Well, maybe not mine haha.

Anyway, this past week I spent two days out at Arakawa Sensei's karate camp for kids. We went to the rather picturesque Chiba to the Nippon Budokan training centre which is essentially a facility designed for groups of martial artists to go live at for a while and train.
While we were there, there was a kendo group, a judo group, and another karate group. They also offer places for Japanese archery (I forget the name), all other styles of karate (Shotokan, Shitu-Ryu, etc.)........................ and tennis. I dunno about that last one, but I was told it's there. The picture above is the view out from the parking lot.

Chiba is rather lush, geen, and pretty. It's a bit like a mini-Vancouver with the ocean on one side and rolling green hills on the other- very very green. A very comforting and stark contrast to the rather concrete-dominant large inner cities.
The first day at camp was travelling there, train for abuot 3 hours, then have a massive barbeque!! The second day was a morning run, breakfast, and then training at the International Budo University, where Arakawa Sensei studied for 4 years.
Budo Universities are universities for the study of martial arts. It's like a massive first class gym/training facility where, it seems, all you do is work out and train. I presume there's class studying the history of martial arts as well as theory of human kinetics and stuff, but when we went, it was just a bunch of people running and doing track and field and swimming and whatnot. We got to train in their dojo which was an amazing facility.
After that, there was supposed to be more training but the kids looked pretty exhausted so we went to the beach instead- where I got a picture with all the camp staff. And before you look at the picture and laugh, realise that in Japan, the first picture taken is always rather normal. Just stand and smile. The more pictures you take, the more then "hen" poses come out. "Hen" means weird, so it's a little comforting to know that even the Japanese realise they're being rather goofy. But hey, what's life if you're not living it up, right?? Anyway, the other point I should make is that when your sensei is doing it, it's best to do it too haha........... Arakawa sensei is two to the right of me.

From left to right- Yuki, Aya, Yoshihara-san, Chihiro, Miku, Me, Yamazaki-san, Arakawa Sensei, the two Suzuki brothers, Fujiwara-san (crouching; he's on the Japanese National Team), Hachisuka Sensei, Keisuke-san, and Masuyama-san

Unforunately, I had to take a rather stressful 4 hour train ride home from Chiba to go to a job interview that was pretty dumb and work the day after.

I found out that the night I left they had fireworks and the day after, they went to the Kamogawoe (I think that's how it's spelled) SeaWorld. Darn......... Oh well, shoganai ne??

Oh, in case you're wondering, shoganai and shikatanai have the same meaning =).

On the upside, I've been getting a few more private lessons which is rather good money. So one day at a time then =).......

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"shikatanai". It's actually more of a phrase meaning "it can't be helped". Or, at least, that's how I use it. As with all of Japanese words, the meaning is highly context dependent but considering I have only been here 3 weeks, one meaning is pretty darn good. So if you were late for a job interview because your bike was run over by the train?? Shikatanai. If you spent all you money at a bar and can't afford to get home?? Shikatanai. If you're competing and you wet yourself in the ring?? Shikatanai....

At least, shikatanai for the little girl who did. I was at the annual Elementary-aged Nationals yesterday and that poor little girl wet herself while she was performing her kata. But, the tough little 7 year old karate student that she was, she finished whatever she was doing, she bowed out, and then ran off to the bathroom. She didn't win though, so I guess there's no sympathy card to be played.

But aside from that incident, it was as interesting and as hard to follow as........ well......... a giant facility to 12 rings and 40+ competitors per ring. It took place at the Tokyo Budokan which is essentially a facility designed for martial arts and the level that some of these kids were at was rather spectacular.

More interesting than all of that was the fact that, being a national level tournament, there were kids of all styles competing. Karate, like nearly all forms of Japanese martial arts, stems more or less from a common ancestor and has been analyzed, re-analyzed, and reformed over the ages by different people offering different perspectives on the same moves. So you end up with a bunch of katas (forms) performed by a bunch of different styles that are essentially the same underneath. Some are superfluously showy with moves that make no practical sense while others have had all the really difficult parts (like jumps) editted out, perhaps because the original master didn't like jumping. Or couldn't.

At any rate, it was a really neat experience to watch, especially considering the coordination and muscular control relative to the ages of those kids. I know I've seen 5 year olds at the park with nary that level of ability.

And so, on wednesday, I'm off to the aforementioned karate camp. There's a barbeque on wed night (yay!) and fireworks on thursday, which I'll be missing as I stumble my way across Japan back home. Apparently it's only one train straight to Tokyo and from there, I know I can find my way back sooooo.......... unless "one train" isn't one train, it shouldn't be a problem.

So, keep checking to see how the camp went beacuse....... well......... if I haven't written about it, I'm probably stuck somewhere in Okinawa. Although that would make for a good story too heh.......

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Another day, another heatwave....

It's a bit ridiculous how humid it is here. It doesn't keep me from doing anything per se, but it's certainly annoying to be waiting for a train whilst sweat literally drips off your hands. I've resorted to waiting til the last second to leave my house so that when I get to the train station, I can quickly get onto the air conditioned haven they call train cars... and bemusedly stare at the cartoon bear telling me not to get my body stuck in the doors cuz it'll chop me in half.....

That's the thing I've noticed about Japan- they take things so seriously yet they won't hesitate to draw the cutest little animal or little boy being decapitated by heavy machinery. It almost trivializes the whole situation. On my JAL flight over, for instance, the safety introduction video was almost entertaining to watch even though they were talking about how I might die if the cabin depressurized or (the best of all of them) receive a severe concussion if improperly stowed overhead baggage were to fall on me. Watching the cartoon man get bonked by the brown rectangle almost looked fun. Well, more fun, at least, than watching Air Canada air stewardesses (which is the longest word you can type using only your left hand- did you know haha) point at the emergency exits on the plane.

Warning! You could break your arming wishing you could play in the construction zone! Hmm.... Or maybe not. It's not like I can read Japanese haha........ Actually it says "koko de asonde wa ikemasen" which probably translates into "Don't go in there" or "... in the area".
Anyway, I digress.

The heat does, however, make for rather intense training, even if it's only to look like you're working really hard when actually, you've only just bowed in heh........

The next few weeks will be fun though, since the Oban (I think that's how it's spelled?? Mariko?? haha) is coming up, which is a public holiday. Richard gets the week off and he offered to show me around Tokyo and each district. I'm really hoping some cosplay guy has dressed himself up with some black and white cardboard box that says "Fujiwara Tofu Shop" on the side when I'm at Harajuku. That would just totally make my day haha.........

But more intensity is to come since tomorrow since I'm up at the the crack of dawn (no daylight saving time in Japan either) to go watch the elementary level national competition at the Tokyo Budokan as well as train at Takagi sensei's dojo at night.

And on wednesday, I'm off.............. somewhere.......... Nagoya maybe??.......... (I should actually find out haha.......) anyways, it's a karate camp and I'll be there for two of the three days since I have to leave early because I have a job interview and work on friday.

Take some train home from some unknown part of Japan by myself?? Bring it on =P........