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Archive for November, 2006

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30
Nov

Fall Colors: Episode Seven

My seventh episode, Fall Colors, in which I take on a few small trips away from Tokyo, including Nikko and Kyoto, where I spotted three Geisha women (with a bodyguard off camera, of course):

Posts referenced here:

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29
Nov

The Tokyo International Film Festival

A Sociology Professor with whom I have become friendly offered me an expensive ticket to the Asian premiere of that Al Gore-narrated climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, a few weeks ago. The ground was in the midst of being pounded with the typhoon season’s last hurrah, but that was too little deterrent. I quickly snapped the ticket with a gracious “arigato gozaimasu,” agreed to meet him and two of his friends later that night, and readied excited thoughts of the chance to attend the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Established more than twenty years ago and annually offering the coveted the Grand Prix, given to the best film, the Tokyo Film Festival is clearly the continent’s premiere festival and one of the most respected in the world. Japan’s celebrated, though recently beleaguered, film industry has produced some of the world’s most respected cinematic productions, and they all take hold during a Tokyo October at the city’s film festival. Along with Asian masterpieces, films, documentaries and popular movies from throughout the world find their way to Tokyo in late October.

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28
Nov

Nikko: Part Two of Two

I awoke before 8am, my icy nose the only portion of my body that was susceptible to the morning chill, as my eyes were covered with my winter hat. I peeled my hat and hood off my face, and discovered some sunlight trickling through a wide, frosted window pane.

I got up enough strength to force the body of blankets off of my chest, only hesitating a minute in the warmth of my bedding. I repacked my bag and folded up all that had made the uninsulated, seemingly unwelcoming autumn sleeping quarters more than bearable, indeed, quite comfortable.

I forced open the old door, which made enough noise to chase away a few deer that had been standing not fifteen or twenty feet from my tiny, isolated cabin. After brushing my teeth and marking an unlucky tree as mine, I hiked back out and rediscovered the messy home of Nikko National Park’s maintenance crew.

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27
Nov

Nikko: Part One of Two

Even if you are to visit the Tokyo region for a short time, Nikko is a worthwhile destination. For me, the city of just 93,000 sprinkled over 900 square miles has been the trip I had most wanted to take since I learned of it months ago. Less than 100 miles north of Tokyo and accessible by just a three-hour train ride, after a couple exchanges.

Tucked in the center of the Tochigi Prefecture of the Kanto Region, Nikko is known for its World Heritage Sites and shrines that ar considered among Japan’s most visited. Still, my excitement was outside of Central Nikko, beyond the surrounding temples. I was excited to wander through the 540 square mile Nikko National Park, which is known for hosting Japan’s most beautiful and celebrated fall colors, at their tops during the first week of November.

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21
Nov

Math

In my typical fashion, I have kept copious notes on a great deal of information that will likely interest no one. Still, I will share it with you now, just a week from my leaving this country. On that bicycle of mine, I managed to clock about 593 miles since I bought it Thursday, September 21. That is nearly the distance between Philadelphia and Indianapolis, Indiana and works out to be about nine miles a day or roughly 60 miles a week. Seeing that I will be selling Newton, my bicycle, to a mutual friend for 5,000 yen, half of her original cost, I certainly think I got my money’s worth. (Don’t worry; Newton’s new rider is a kind, gentle man, who will treat her well).

Here at home, I finished five 5-kg bags of rice, meaning I ate 55 pounds of Japanese-grown grain in less than four months. That is like me eating a healthy ten-year-old boy’s weight in rice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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18
Nov

Japanese Food: Episode Six

Whenever you travel, the focus really ought to be the food.

Being an island nation and incorporating stereotypes I already had, the food I ate in Japan was heavy in fish, rice, hot noodle soups and small portions. My favorite meal of the entire trip was a tonkatsu (breaded pork) dish from a tiny spot near Hachik? Square in the Shibuya section of Tokyo, and a few doors down from a pachinko parlor.

I featured an entire episode on FOOD, see it below.

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17
Nov

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama has been on a speaking tour through Japan this past week. He was engaged in Tibetan Buddhist teachings in the west, where he said, “Buddhism is a science of the mind,” and then moved through Hiroshima, where he added his own appeals for nuclear abolition. On Friday, November 10, he was in Tokyo. On that day, somewhere in Shinjuku, just an hour or so by bicycle away from me, was the fourteenth in a successive lineage that is traced back to the 14th century of Buddhism’s highest spiritual leader.

More than 70 years old, the current Dalai Lama, “spiritual teacher,” is Tenzin Gyatso. He is known the world over and in the West, he is always associated with peace, spirituality and tradition. However, that tradition, like so many, has come crashing into the political world.

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16
Nov

Thanksgiving

t is Thanksgiving in the United States, isn’t it? I suppose that means no one is likely to read this, but I’ll write it anyway. Here in Japan, Thanksgiving is even less recognized than Halloween, which is only seen with some scattered store displays and small celebrations by Westerners here in Tokyo.

Sometime between late September and early November in 1621 the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is now known as the first Thanksgiving, though it didn’t become an annual event and wasn’t even called a thanksgiving, which would have been considered a religious, not a celebratory event. It is just that needless information that I have crammed in my mind that should have told me that this time of the year was a foolish one to be away from the country I love.

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16
Nov

Sempai and Kouhai

Here is another quick Japanese culture lesson for you. If you know someone who grew up in the country, ask his him who his sempai and kouhai are. Almost without question, he will have an answer.

[sem-PIE] and [co-HIGH]

Japan is, people like to say, a country of obedience and community, without the independence of the West. One of the clearest examples of this, and one of best ways this structure is passed on is through this mentor-like system. While it might refer to seniority in a business or some organization, most usually every person grew up under the tutelage of someone just older, his sempai [sem-PIE]. It is the responsibility of the sempai to guide and advise his younger half, his kouhai [co-HIGH], the best he can. In return, it is generally understood that the kouhai must respect and follow his sempai. Just a few days ago I went out to a bar with a group of Japanese college students I had befriended. While, I believe, it more common to find a group of American friends all similarly aged, the sempai/kouhai dynamic changes things.

I was there, drinking Suntory and eating tonkatsu and fried potatoes with the group’s grand sempai, a 33-year-old, whose kouhai was 26-years-old, who was sempai to a 25-year-old, who was sempai to a 23-year-old, who was sempai to a 22-year-old, who was sempai to a 21-year-old, who was sempai to a 15-year-old. If they got into arguments, the sempai would always make the peace, and there was a genuine respect for one’s sempai. Granted, normal social skills skew the presence. The 22-year-old was clearly the most popular, most athletic and most out-going of the group, but he knew his place and didn’t question it. It is this, the sempai and kouhai system that might be one of the clearest ways to describe how much of Japanese society is structured and remains. It is surprisingly refreshing to find such a tradition still so active.

Jaa ne,
Christopher

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16
Nov

Street Fair

Sometimes you stumble upon some of your finest moments abroad. I was sweeping down Meguro Dori, pumping my legs and keeping a song at my lips, as passed what appeared to be a small sidewalk festival, with forty or fifty stalls with foods and small games. Without hesitation, I parked my bicycle and split the crowds, eyeing the takoyaki, soba, rice dishes, chocolate-covered bananas, fish, pork on a stick and plenty more. After circling around and around, I thought about monjo, but finally settled on its more solid cousin, okonomiyaki, a fatty Japanese dish often reserved for carnivals, which features a pancake base covered with lettuce, fish, crab and other seafood, vegetables, often pickled, and topped with spices, mayonnaise and sour-ish soy sauce, for 500 yen ($4.25 USD). I poured into it, and, nearly finished, I realized I had the linguistic ability to tell the chef that his wares were “delicious.” Feeling the need to assure myself that I could be understood, I bought a small dessert cake, which tasted like a waffle surrounding a creamy melted cheese, and, after grabbing a quick bite, I turned to the woman who took my 100 yen and exclaimed, “Oishii!” She smiled and replied with “dozo,” another Japanese conversation, small as it was, completed. I finished my foods and climbed back on my bicycle, satisfied with another few hard-to-forget memories.

Jaa ne,
Christopher