Wednesday, 31 December 2008
When I realized I was going to run out of yarn again, I put the project aside until I’d have enough time to go to the specialty store in western Tokyo to buy some more of the beautifully coloured brown yarn, and moved on to other projects. With the holidays approaching and the cold weather starting to hit my father’s corner of the world, I realized I’d have to get cracking on his scarf if I hoped to give it to him while I was in Canada for the holidays. Finish it I did, and in perfect timing to use my brand new blocking wires too! (While I didn’t really need blocking wires for this type of a bulky project I was THRILLED to use my Christmas present and loved loved LOVED just how easy it made the whole process!)
As for the scarf, it is a reversible cable pattern, and despite what a number of people have said about how intricate it looks, it was a mind-numbingly easy knit – 23 rows of simple 1 x 1 rib and then one row with a big and somewhat awkward cable, then 23 more rows of 1 x 1 rib… Simple and very easy to do on the move.
Dad seems happy with the finished project – he’s contemplating buying a new jacket to match and has already started muttering about wanting a toque too…
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
So there I sat, drinking my toffee-nut latte and trying to work on an analysis paper for my art history class, and becoming increasingly distracted by the chatter of the staff. I listened as they talked about how tired they were, how crazy busy they had been earlier, how they had botched up drink orders (mine included), how they didn't know how to properly dispose of old coffee and might clog the sink... And I got to thinking about professionalism. It surprised me a little that the staff had no problems having these types of conversations in front of customers and at a volume level that ensured that all the customers in the store could hear them. I don't think you would be likely to overhear the same sort of thing in a Sutaba. The Japanese staff would be much less likely to have private conversations at loud levels while they were working. The level of politeness towards the customer and the level of professionalism of the employee are different.\
Of course, that means that you the customer are less likely to joke around with the barista making your drink, chat with the cashier at the grocery store, be patted on the head by your waitress at the pub, or hugged by the manager of the liquor store. Some how an overly perky "IRASHAIMASE!" just doesn't compare...
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
The house my father now lives in is one he moved into only a few years ago, long after I had moved away. The house itself may not have a long history for me, but it certainly holds one. From my maternal grandmother's gorgeous wardrobe in my bedroom, to the boxes of books I read as a child, and all the other bits and pieces that my family of packrats have kept over the years.
One of my favourite things to do when I am here is to go through old photo albums. Sometimes I look through my parents' wedding photos, or my baby albums. Other times I look through the albums I made of my summers spent working in the Canadian Rockies or of my exchange to Japan.
With the number of times I've moved, you'd think I'd be good at moving on and starting afresh. But I've always hated goodbyes, and when I start looking at old photographs the first thing that I think about is the people that are no longer in my life. The family members who are not here to share the holidays, the friends I've lost touch with, or those with whom staying in touch was just too painful or awkward or difficult for one reason or another.
It is this last group of people in particular that I've been thinking about recently. I worry (I inherited my paternal grandmother's highly developed worry gene) about them and wonder how they are, hoping that wherever they are they are happy (and that maybe, just maybe, they occasionally think about me?). Today I got a holiday email greeting from one of them - an old friend that I worried I had carelessly scared off. His message was only two lines, but just getting it at all was what mattered. It made my day.
Happy Holidays! Whatever you celebrate, why don't you pass the greetings along, you never know who's day you might make.
Saturday, 20 December 2008
So you can see why I'm a little nervous this time, right?
My co-workers at the museum, upon hearing I was heading to Canada for the holidays, got very worried. Very worried. I mean, I could probably have told them I was planning to swim in shark-infested with a life jacket made of raw steak, or trekking across the Arctic wearing only my bathing suit, and they wouldn't have looked more worried.
I learnt my lesson last year. I refuse to have connections through the US if I can help it. This year I'm flying on only one airline, two flights I booked at the same time and that are on the same ticket. I have a direct flight to Vancouver, and nearly 8 hours to make my connecting flight (which is not even the last flight of the day). I haven't been able to reduce the stress and lack of sleep leading up to leaving that is the likely cause for my annual health crash, but I have been taking vitamins and my favourite "Chinese green pills."
Now I just have to hope that Snowmaggedon stays in the east...
Friday, 19 December 2008
I really should have known better.
I'm taking a library services course with two other guys in my department. A number of weeks back the professor asked one of the guys to write a piece for the annual report of our university's librarian certificate program. The student in question has a background working with individuals with disabilities and spent part of the summer assisting a man with severe cerebral palsy who enrolled in the intensive summer librarian certificate program. The student was asked to write a report on his experiences over the summer and his push to start a disability services office at our university. The teacher also made some mention about asking the other student to write a piece, but nothing further was said. A week or so later, at a department party, the other student was complaining about not knowing whether he was to write something, but not wanting to ask in case he then had to and he was hoping he didn't have to.
I teased him.
I pretended to comiserate with him and then said that the only thing that was clear was that the prof hadn't asked me to write anything.
I really should have known better.
The following week in class the professor asked me to write up my presentations - on specific terminology used in definitions in Japanese law concerning museums and libraries.
I, of course, am completely unable to say no and love a challenge.
My classmate was kind enough not to laugh at me.
Saturday, 13 December 2008
I was finally able to give it to him today - and it matched both his shirt and jacket!
We first met in Vancouver a few years back, at the language exams and interviews for the Japanese government scholarship. It wasn't until a half a year after we arrived in Japan, however, that I actually got to know him. We both attended the Tokyo Canadian Club's annual Thanksgiving Dinner at the Pink Cow in Shibuya, where we discovered a shared love of hockey and the Vancouver Canucks.
In the year since, I've gotten to know him better and realized that just how genuinely nice he is. He's super patient, very generous, and a great listener (even when I stress obsessively over things). He's kind and considerate, a real gentleman. He's crazy intelligent and its incredible how much his Japanese has improved in such a short time (he took level one of the Japanese proficiency exam a few weeks back!). Most of all, he's good fun and has a great sense of humour. Oh, and he rides a motorcycle!
Now that I've embarrassed him totally I might as well add that he is single - so ladies, if you're interested just let me know and I'll see if I can set you up!
Friday, 12 December 2008
Quite soon after she started she saw a scarf I had made for somebody else at the museum and, despite the fact that we didn't know each other very well, she asked me if I'd maker her one. I was rather surprised but I agreed. It took me a few months before I finally felt able to pick the right wool for her scarf, but when I did I knew it was perfect - a chunky Noro in a bright bright bright pink mixed with various other colours. I partnered the wool with a similarly textured black and had a vague idea of what I wanted to make, but I didn't have the exact pattern until my wonderful cousin (once removed) sent me a gorgeous pair of hand-knit mitts. With only one false start I had modified the mitt pattern into a scarf, and the chunky yarn knit up really quickly.
I think it suits her free-spiritedness pretty well. She seems to like it too - she squealed when she opened it and then proceeded to wear it for the entire day as she was working in the object storage space - which is climate controlled and rather chilly!
(She was concerned about how freakishly large her hands look in the photo but after doing hand size comparisons it turns out it isn't just the camera adding ten pounds - her hands ARE freakishly large!!)
Of course, my brain was not plugged into its langauge socket either, so everytime I tried to say anything I seemed to be searching for words which frustrated me and getting frustrated I ended up making stupid grammatical mistakes. Being largely stupid mistakes I wouldn't normally make, I noticed them and got even more frustrated with myself.
I know these days happen when you live in a foreign country and communicate in a language that is not your first. Most of the time it doesn't bother me. But when I'm under stress and exhausted... Sigh.
So I came home yesterday, after my long, exhausting day. There were two parcels waiting for me. One was a book I ordered for my thesis - which is pretty exciting (its in English instead of the German one I've been using, and no, I haven't taken German since first year of university!) But there was also a parcel from a good friend in Canada and this...
I LOVE penguins. This little guy sings, dances, and ensures that I have a Christmas tree in my room to give me a little holiday spirit... Yeah. It TOTALLY made my day.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Ev'rywhere you go;
There's a tree at the university,
Lots in the shops as well...
Most of all, however, its bonenkai (忘年会, lit. "forget the year party") season! You know the company Christmas party that people complain about, because they are worried the boss will get drunk and hit on the interns or the new guy will climb onto the table to serenade the room? Well, Japanese bonenkai can be pretty much guaranteed to include that sort of behaviour because they will always include lots of alcohol. Lots. They often include silly games or other organized antics to make sure that even the timid will embarrass themselves.
Which is why I'm amused at Tokyo Metro's poor excuse for a December manners poster.
Seriously? "Please refrain from drunken behaviour?!" What does Tokyo Metro actually expect to achieve with this poster?
Of course, I'm not saying that I enjoy taking the train when its full of post-bonenkai-ers! Makes me want to change my tune:
Its beginning to smell a lot like Bonenkai-season,
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look at the train platform,
Glistening once again,
With salary-men who throw...
Ahem... right... Happy Holidays!
Monday, 1 December 2008
What makes me even happier is...
My dad told me to pick out some items for my new place for my Christmas present. I love making fruit and yoghurt smoothies, iced coffee drinks, and other blender drinks. Now I can do it at home! Yay!! (I'm just hoping that the fact that this is a Christmas present doesn't mean I have to wait until Christmas to start using it?!)
My basic fruit smoothie has always been frozen blueberries and frozen canned peaches with strawberry yoghurt. Blueberries (frozen or fresh) are crazy expensive in Japan, however, so I am going to have to branch out a bit. I've already got some kiwi I cut up and froze, so I'm looking forward to trying that with peaches. I know a friend who uses persimmons and ice and yoghurt but I'm not big on persimmons. Any suggestions?
In his talk he spoke about history and periodalization, about how different historical periods are defined, described, and delineated. To demonstrate his point he asked us when the Edo period began. The most common date is 1603, when Tokugawa Ieyasu was named shogun. But really that was just a formality, as he was acknowledged as ruler after winning the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. But, there were still challenges to his rule until the Battle(s) of Osaka in 1614-1615. As is common in Japanese history, the period is named after a city, however, so the argument could be made for starting the period in 1590, when Ieyasu became ruler of Edo and the Kanto area. The 1630s saw the solidification of many of the laws that are now seen to symbolize the Edo period and the last large armed dispute in Japan for centuries, so this could also be the said to be the start of the period. The golden period of Edo period culture and art wasn't until later, however, and is markedly different so a date of somewhere in the 1650s wouldn't be strange either. The professor then reminded all of us that such a discussion, while usefull, is fundamentally anachronistic for none of those dates would have meant anything to the Japanese at the time. The contemporary Japanese calendar was based on era names that were chosen by the emperor and could be (and were) changed regularly. Nobody in 17th century Japan would have articulated that they were living in the "Edo period."
The professor further joked that nobody woke up and said "Yesterday it was the pre-modern period. Today it is the modern period!"
It got me thinking. It occurred to me that I had first met this professor in a different period of my own life. I was in my Boston period. I'm now in my Tokyo period. There was a Pune period in between. From the historical standpoint, all three have clear start dates and, with the exception of the current one, end points. The more I thought about it, however, I realized that this periodalization represents no more than my location. It just doesn't quite satisfy. Somewhere in between then and now I changed. I can't look back and pick out one specific date when it all changed. There was no revolution or imperial restoration, there were no bloody battles, but there were losses along the way. Its been a gradual process, built on each new experience and discovery, on thousands of little things that all add up leaving me looking back as if at snapshots in a photo album...
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
The gang: an American grad student doing her PhD thesis research in Tokyo, my sempai (student senior to me) from school, a friend through Girl Scouts
The location: Hiraizumi in northern Japan.
The purpose: to see the famous temples
the stream used in the Heian period for poetry/drinking parties
What we REALLY did: EAT, eat, eat, and then eat some more! When Japanese people travel within their own country they have a fascination with food, local dishes and special products. This means Genghis Khan (grilled lamb) and potatoes in Hokkaido, apples in Aomori, a special beef dish in Sendai, okonomiyaki and takoyaki in Kansai... The list is endless. Guide books and travel magazines are full of glossy photographs of these local specialities and include lists of restaurants. These specialites then find their way into the omiyage, the souvenier gifts brought home by the traveller for family, friends, and co-workers. My Japanese friends were shocked to discover that travel to a Westerner does not automatically imply discovering local delicacies to quite the same extent. I'm quite happy that this trip we most definitely travelled Japanese style and stuffed ourselves silly with the local specialities.
9 different types of mochi (rice cake)
wanko soba - 24 single bite sized bowls of noodles to be eaten with a thin soup and a variety of fixings
dinner at the hot springs hotel
Moffle - mochi waffle
(Yes, I know I am becoming Japanese with my fascination for taking photographs of meals I am about to eat. I just hope I don't go over the edge and start taking photos of airplane food!)
When we booked the trip, we had been warned that the season for fall colours would be over. I'd disagree, however!
I think the photos express it better than I ever could in words...
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Saturday, 15 November 2008
The autumn foliage turns whole mountains a beautiful crimson against the clear blue of the autumn sky, or reflects astonishing reds, brilliant yellows and bright oranges on still, mirror-like lakes. As autumn deepens with each passing day, the sun's rays are becoming softer and news of the arrival of the autumn colors is starting to be heard from various parts of Japan.
And I was reminded that I was going to rant about the lack of central heating and how my apartment is freezing cold despite the fact that it is still ten degrees above zero outside. I was going to end my rant with an eloquent and witty look at the Japanese fascination with the concept of Japan's unique blessing of four distinct seasons and the glorious display that is Japan in the autumn. But I've been beaten to it. Auberginefleur has collected all the links and Blue Lotus has said it better than I could. (and now I'm feeling the need to come up with a colour/flower combination nickname for myself...)
So instead I'm going to rant about what kept me awake for half the night last night - the whine of a mosquito in my ear. I'm serious. A mosquito. In November. I've had to pull out my little space heater and most (but not all) of my winter blankets. But I was kept awake because a mosquito was whining in my ear. He was waiting for me when I came home this evening too, and enjoyed flying around my head while I checked my email. He dive bombed me one too many times, however, and will not be bothering me tonight!
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Concerned about crime levels among foreigners, this shopping mall tourist info office decided to do their part to increase violent crime...
What teenager hasn't said to their parents, "but, like, EVERYBODY is gonna be there! Why can't I go tooo?!" This time it really is true!
Thursday, 6 November 2008
After the interview my professor and I set off. Despite being warned the distance was too long, and despite the fact that we were carrying our bags for the weekend, the beautiful weather beckoned and we set off on foot. The short stroll turned out to be further than we thought - and after an hour and a half of walking along the shoulder of a highway, we finally arrived at museum numbers two and three - with about 45 mintues before closing! We dashed around the two small museums and chatted with staff before the director of one of the museums offered to drive us back into town to our hotel so we didn't have to call a taxi. Dinner at a sushi restaurant and a couple of drinks at an empty Irish pub and we were back at the hotel and I was asleep before 9pm!
The next morning we caught a train again, although not quite so early. After having lugged our bags around all day the previous day I suggested we head first to the hotel so that we could drop of our bags. By 10:30 we were on a bus to an outlying major archeological site with an impressive visitor's centre and a small museum with information in 6 languages! As we were looking around a reconstructed prehistoric pit-dwelling, however, the skies opened up and thunder rumbled. I was worried about getting my camera wet but my professor was petrified of getting hit by lightening and went scrambling back in the dwelling every time he heard a rumble. We decided to give up and have lunch, and were rewarded by sun, blue skies, and the occasional shower in the afternoon. After heading back to town by bus we hit two more museums - one on forests and the other on wooden fishing boats. Both were a ways away from the station and each other - more walking! I was quite happy to have enough time to soak my feet before we headed out for dinner, at a funky Japanese bar decorated with movie posters from the 50s.
Day three dawned a little later - we had only to walk 20 minutes to museum #7 for the weekend. From there we dropped our bags at the station and headed to the prefectural museum for a whirlwind visit. We had just enough time to pick up the obligatory gifts and a late boxed lunch before jumping back on an express train and then transferring to the shinkansen bound for Tokyo. We were both so exhausted that we slept most of the way back, but it was an awesome weekend. Good fun, and also rather productive as I'm planning to use at least two of the museums we visited as case studies for my thesis. I also enjoyed getting to know my professor better (not my advisor, but the other prof in museum studies at my university). But I was very glad to get home on Monday night and collapse into my own futon, and even happier to be able to spend all day Tuesday at home, venturing no further than the grocery store!
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Although I'd agree with Greeneyed Geisha and Chris at Hitotoki that the problem isn't people partying on the train, but those taking the train home AFTER having partied!
I now use the Tobu line on a regular basis and am amused by their manners poster series. They are currently on the third in a fairy tale series. August was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, advocating for not taking up more space than necessary on the seat so that as many people as possible can sit.
September was Cinderella and a plea to stop running for trains about to close their doors.
And October was Little Red Riding Hood and a request to turn down your music and not annoy other passengers.
All of this creative attention being focused on manners? Only in Japan...
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
He was rather late, but he and his mom are both doing well.
He's adorable... I'm smitten!
When I was a baby I was given a pink baby blanket by the friend of my grandmother. It has gotten rather ratty, and been patched a few times, but I still have my baby blanket. The woman who gave it to me became immortalized as "the Blanket Lady." I've now become a blanket lady myself, but this time around I wanted to do more than just buy a soft blue blanket - I wanted to give little Tadanobu a flavour of India, and I wanted to knit it myself.
So I looked through hundreds of patterns, and finally settled on two - for elephant dishcloths!
Multiple that by sixteen, add a frilly border, and voila! A baby blanket!
But I'm kinda partial to this picture... (I sent little Tadanobu some Raffi for him to enjoy when he gets a bit bigger)