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Showing posts from June, 2015

A Random Conglomerate of Things

This past few days there's been no clear narrative of what's going on--just a bunch of separate yet interesting events (including one that's sending my family and I on a semi historical quest!).

On Sunday (which was, all-in-all a very chill day) my host father had a choir concert. There were several groups that were singing (I think) a variety of nostalgic Japanese folk songs, mostly about the seasons or foods--one was about bananas, for instance. My host dad was part of the final, culminating song where 100 people were singing a song series called "furusatou four seasons" which was a huge medley of seasonal songs. There was piano and percussion accompaniment, mimicking the sounds of the wind, or snow, or falling leaves etc.


The whole group!


My host dad is in the front row, fifth from the right (to the left of the guy sitting down).

Then on Monday I received a very interesting letter. A woman named Yoshiko Flershem, age 95, saw that I was from Chicago in the news…

Who says you need a TARDIS to time-travel?

So today, a slightly-chilly, drizzly Saturday, I did a bit of time traveling. Zoey and her host mom were kind enough to invite me on their excursion to Gokayama. Gokayama is a UNESCO world heritage site because all its buildings are built in the gassho-zukuri style (which basically means they're a-frame houses with thatched roofs). Part of the reason all the houses are a-frame is because they get so much snow--there were some photographs of the entire mountain covered in what looked like 5-6 feet of snow!


There's not a huge amount of stuff to do there. You walk around, poke your head into some of the tourist stores. The houses are all residential, so except for one "open house" you're not allowed to walk in them. But the village is very picturesque, and I really liked getting to spend time with Zoey and her host mom (who I also get to call okaa-san, or "mom").




The one house we did get to poke our heads into was very nice: the floors are all dark wood wi…

Just an Eating Day

So today both my job and my free time were centered around the consumption of food.
I went to one event this morning, at the shinto shrine, Kanazawa Jinya, located inside of Kenrokuen. There was going to be a blessing at the shrine of this year's humuro-manju, which are a kind of Japanese sweet (think a sweet bun filled with red bean) and are eaten on July 1st in Kanazawa.


The manju are a little hard to see in this photo, but on the black tray there are pink, green, and white blobs...

And that was the only event I attended today. Around one I took the reporter who was sorta just assigned to keep me occupied in the afternoon, Mr Shimizu, to a cafe called Cafe Dumbo which was right behind the office building (but he'd never heard of it, surprisingly). I had a really solid pastrami sandwich and a heavenly chai tea latte.


According to Shimizu, I suit this kind of cafe and he took this photo to illustrate how I look like a painting...


The heavenly latte in question.

I'm amassin…

Continuing on the sports theme...

Continuing with the theme of sports, today I went with Ms Kitamura to the rehearsal of Fantasy on Ice 2015, an ice skating exhibition/show-thing that's being held in four cities across Japan. The list of stars is actually...really good.
Shoma Uno- winner of the 2015 Junior World Championships
Javier Fernandez- winner of the 2015 World Championships
Yuzuru Hanyu- gold medal winner in men's singles at Sochi
Evgeni Plushenko- speaks for himself
Johnny Weir- two-time Olympian who also speaks for himself...
(And there were more, these were just the names I recognized!)

Gave me an idea of how professional figure skaters support themselves though...and retired skaters...


We were actually at this rink for a really long time. Each group of skaters had practices of 50 minutes each and there were...five groups. And of course the athlete that Ms Nishimura wanted to interview was in the last group, which didn't finish until 3pm.


One of the younger Japanese skaters...Marin Honda.


A blur…

Semi-Pro= Semi-Famous?

So yesterday, while productive, was actually rather dull--I went to two events, neither of which were terribly inspiring and hence no post (one was about these little weird fried fish that some school children ate for lunch if that gives you an idea of the strength of the news that day...)

Today was more interesting and just to change up the format of my posts I'm going to give you a time-specific blow-by-blow.


10am: I arrive promptly at the office. It is mostly deserted as usual. I sit down at my desk and putz about

11am: Still putzing. I have since printed out a recipe for pound cake I might make for my host family and gotten online access to the Chicago Tribune from my mom.

11:40am: Decided to start looking at courses for next fall instead. Frontiers and Controversies in Modern Astrophysics, The Young Adult Dystopian Novel, and Bioethics and Law sound interesting. I make a note on my calendar and also realize that 8am breakfast feels like a long time ago.

12pm: I (finally) head…

Zimbabwe x Japan

Today I had a relatively calm workday, if such a thing exists. I spent the morning editing--again!--that dang coffee article. Blech. But I think after one more final final round of cleaning it up the whole process will be done and it can go to print for the day after tomorrow's paper.

But in the afternoon I got to go to a pretty cool story. There's a Japanese office for international cultural exchange, and for five years now there's been an exchange with a group of traditional dancers from Zimbabwe, of all places. They come to Japan for a few weeks and tour around, performing at schools etc. Today they were at an elementary school in Kanazawa called Fudoujishou, which also has a requirement that all its students take lessons in traditional art like the shamisen.

All the students were set up on chairs in their gymnasium:


There were five Zimbabweans, four students and their teacher. They were all pretty young--between the ages of 12 and 15. They performed a variety of dances…

If Only I Could Read

Sometimes it stinks to be functionally illiterate in a language you love. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely capable of reading the necessary things--menus, signs, basic instructions etc.--but novels in Japanese are still beyond me. However, even though I can't really "read" per se, I couldn't resist a visit (with Nick) to the Kanazawa Umimirai Library. It's a fairly new library--my host family thought it was finished around 2005--and on a list of the World's 25 Most Beautiful Libraries it comes in around #5. So, being the book-lover that I am, who could resist?

The outside of the library reminds me simultaneously of the Beinecke at Yale and the "roundels" of the Doctor's Tardis.


The inside was, of course, silent as the grave and all the available nooks and tables were filled with studying students. Libraries, somewhat unlike (?) public libraries in the US still get plenty of regular use by students.



The inside is quite charming, if slig…

SUMO

Today my host dad and I went to Komatsu, a nearby town, where there was a day of sumo. Komatsu is what I would describe as Japanese inaka--countryside. It's a lot of nothing but rice paddies stretching on and on, but it is home to the nearest domestic airport and the Komatsu Dome, a concrete monstrosity where the event was being held.

The inside, which was this weird sand-covered astro turf (it gets used for soccer, tennis, baseball...pretty much everything) was packed.


Most people had ground seats on these horrendous cushions (which we got/had to take home with us):


For those of you who don't know much about sumo, Wikipedia is a great reference. I'll give what I know about it in brief here. Sumo is based in Shinto tradition, which is why it's full of ritual and hierarchy (for example, the wrestlers each throw salt into the ring for purification before each bout). The hierarchy of the wrestlers themselves is the most prominent. I won't go into the minutiae of the d…

Kanazawa Paper Show

All hail the end of the work week! TGIF. All that jazz. All in all I can't complain too much about today though since my morning turned into a slight crafting bonanza. This morning I went to the annual Kanazawa Paper Show, which was an expo of paper products, specialty paper, and paper crafts. It was half museum, half store, half craft workhop and half other. (Sorry, I know that's too many halves.)

Art wise there were a bunch of specialty books and paper things. There was even an entire wedding dress made of washi (Japanese paper).



 Ties made of paper!


Not that I would ever wear a dress made of paper...imagine it ripping, or raining!

There were also various paper-craft stations set up around the expo. Since we ended up with some extra time, the reporter I was with was kind enough to humor me and let me try a few.

So I made some paper of my own:


And then at another station I got to marble paper (this sheet has my name on it; before dipping the paper in the ink and water solutio…

Even Professionals Practice Too

Today I went to Nishi Chaya (just like the other popular tea district, Higashi Chaya but in the West instead of the East) to watch geisha and meiko at their dance practice for an upcoming performance.


That's Nishi Chaya with it's traditional wooden-latticed teahouses.

We went inside a building which had a large tatami practice room on the second floor with a raised wooden stage. They were already at work when we arrived: some meiko (geisha in training) brought us tea and a snack before sitting gracefully, seiza style, with their legs tucked beneath them. It's the polite way to sit but your ankles and legs fall asleep and start to ache within a few minutes.

The teacher was an old Japanese man. He was very nice when he talked to me, albeit briefly, but when the dance practice resumed he turned into a nit-picking, fan-slapping fiend.


Here he is doing the motions along with them. Despite his age he was very agile.

The longest dance was a duet, story dance with a man (obviously…

Old News

Nothing much happened today in the way of work. Went to the curio coffee shop to ask some follow up questions and then edited the article I had previously written (we shall see what Ms Morita has to say about it). Accompanied another reporter to a supermarket where the company president was giving a presentation to some university students (he talked for an hour about the competition of convenience stores and the company's policies and then got sidetracked into the 90s bubble economy and economics...it was a long time to wait). Got out early.

Dinner was much more interesting. A Russian woman named Diana had stayed with my host family two years ago and since she and her boyfriend were in Japan again, they stopped over for dinner. I found myself doing a lot of translating: Diana's Japanese was much worse than my own, and her boyfriend spoke no Japanese but DID speak French, so the meal (which was extravagant--tempura, yakitori, and sushi!) turned into a pleasant review session f…