Friday, June 29, 2007

Living it up at the Hotel Gansuiji...

This is a bit of a leftover topic I never got around to reporting on because of all the excitement with people visiting in April. There is a local temple called Gansuiji that is famous for praying for new babies and ceremonies for good luck for new infants. You can even pay them about $50 to choose your child's name for you- I am sure it is a great honour for some families, but I tend to think part of the fun of having a baby is coming up with the name. We went there in early April, to pray for good luck for our future child as we aren't spring chickens and we thought it doesn't hurt to play it safe. Well unfortunately they said that we should come back around the 5 month mark- it was too early for them to offer their prayers.
The temple is located on the side of my old enemy- Forest Park and so the entire scenery surrounding the temple is quite beautiful. Here a statue suggests a well traveled man arriving at the temple (although this is only my interpretation).
In the outlying area there stands this weather- ravished looking old hut. It brings me to wondering how this thing was still standing, looks like if you breathe too heavily it will topple.
I saw an interesting place that I wanted a picture of, so I returned there a few weeks later to take the picture.
Turns out to have been a great choice as when I returned the Cherry blossoms were in full bloom lending even more beauty to this quiet little area.
I found this hotel immensely interesting with it's all cement decor making it look like something out of a Stephen King movie. The sad fact is that it was probably a poor business idea as it looks like it's a long time closed now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sunday Shopping

They went that away

Shopping for Windows: On Sunday after shaking the cobwebs from my head from a few beers on Saturday, Ritsy and I took a tour around Hamamatsu looking at various shops. As I mentioned now that I am entering(about half way through term towards) fatherhood, I want to get a handle on the costs that we will be facing next year. So went around and checked out a few second hand shops and saw that we could save some cash by buying some second hand goods without sacrificing quality. Even some of the stuff we saw wasn't really used, it was just being cleared from store stock. The road is getting brighter too! Chris offered to put up a notice for his students canvassing them for any baby stuff they might want to get rid of- a truly kind and greatly appreciated offer! Also today one of my students, Koji-san said that one of his wife's friends had a baby bed they only used a few times they want to get rid of- so we might have a free bed! People's thoughtfulness and generosity never cease to astound me!
Just For Fun: Those of you that, like I, grew up on Star Wars and remember it (at least the first 3) fondly- You can get the humour of Family Guy and this special from Seth 'Scott Evil' Green's show Robot Chicken - all Star Wars fun! HERE!

Monday, June 25, 2007

The weekend

Yesterday Ritsy and I had a nice little get together with Ritsy's girlhood friend and her family. Manami and Ritsuko have been good friends since they were quite young and went to school together through high school .
Her husband actually went to school with them as well- though he was a couple of years older. "Tet-chan", has always been a great host to me, enjoying beers with me and chatting in English!
Their family were the first people I met in Hamamatsu on my first trip out here 4 years back and they have always graciously hosted us making tonnes of great food and, of course, drinking until late with me! Actually here is a picture from my earliest visit...
Their two kids are great too! Shogo ( center in the picture with the orange shirt) and Eiho (strapped to Manami's back in the picture), have grown a tonne and are not only really friendly and fun, but they have a great memory! They really remember me well and they always want me to stay over the night and play with them! Very cute.
Shogo is 8 years old now and he is a soccer star. He showed me his MVP trophy from his soccer team and he is just an all around good kid. Except he wants to take a bath with me for some reason...
Eiho is 6 now ( he was but a year old the first time I met him) and he is also a soccer maniac. He has some championship trophies and he was showing me pictures of him 'owning' his classmates in the Sports Day for his Kindergarten. He also is really quite funny- he was teaching me kanji when I took the above picture.

We, as usual, had a lot of great food and some great laughs together. Unfortunately this morning my head was in pain, but it was worth it! I hope that we have more opportunities to visit with them!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

That's Japan (volume 4)

Ahhh- Japan. A land rich with cultural history and a promise of a bright future. The past and future meet in Japan and it shows itself in the most unexpected of places. As westernized as the culture is becoming we are constantly faced with traditional elements of Japan that make this place so unique, so lovable and so confusing all at the same time. Well.... that's Japan!
1.The Inkan - How do we authenticate documents and personal checks back home? With archaic, easily forged signatures. Well the Japanese have the best solution to this problem- forensically pure and virtually un-forgeable rubber stamps. The Hanko or Inkan has the earliest documented use in 67 A.D. a gold seal used by the emperor. The heritage of this system probably links back to China as my old friends at Wikipedia explain here. Honestly in this day and age with comprehensive scanning technology it is pretty apparent that both the inkan and signatures can be reproduced- what will be the next generation marker?
2. The commonly asked questions. - As an English teacher I get a pretty comprehensive read on some misconceptions that seem to be quite widespread here in Japan. Here are the top three that come to my mind:
- Only Japan has 4 seasons. To be honest I am not really sure what is in people's minds when they ask this question to me. In my humble opinion (IMHO to you internet geeks out there) in Canada the seasons are more clearly defined than they are here in Japan- anyway Chris had a great take on the 4 season thing in his blog- funny guy!
- People in other countries don't have allergies like they do here in Japan. - I can understand where this feeling comes from- there is a lot of pollution here and the air pollution intensifies the concentration of pollen in the air. But it doesn't change the fact that we have a lot of the same trees and grasses (like Cedar) in and around Vancouver and I have been suffering since I was 11 or 12.
- The chopstick thing. - Especially in western culture, international food is quite popular. In most countries everyone has been to a Chinese or Japanese restaurants more than a couple of times. So, yes most of us can eat with chopsticks.
3. Breakfast - I never picked up on it back in Canada that my wife never craved sweet food for breakfast. I mean how many hangovers have I tried to kill at IHOP over a plate of waffles- or what kid didn't enjoy a big bowl of sugar coated Frosted Flakes or Count Chocula? The truth is that people here in Japan think that it's weird that we eat sweets - they are used to their traditional morning meal of Salad (I mean salad for breakfast? That is weird), Miso Soup, Rice (of course), and a grilled piece of fish. Of course sometimes you can throw Natto into that mix- which I will talk about in a second.
4. Natto - When I first smelled the wonder that is natto- my stomach did about 3 back flips. The smell I would liken to how your toes smell after a long day of playing sports, or belly-button lint. When you get past the smell, the taste is actually acceptable- but I ask this simple question- why would you want to get used to such a horrible smell. I usually take a pass on this. What is it? It is fermented soy beans usually mixed with mustard and green onions- it is incredibly healthy for you and it is quite popular among the Japanese.
5. Holidays - While it is no secret that the Japanese work harder than people in most cultures- most of the workers I know start at 8 am and usually head home anywhere from 7pm- 10pm (sometimes later) just about everyday. Lately companies have introduced a 'No Overtime" day- to encourage employees to reclaim some of their lives (or more accurately cut down on the costs of paying overtime). Even though most employees are allowed some personal days off in the year, it is generally frowned upon to use these days. Well, the government is a saviour- most people are guaranteed 3 weeks off a year. There is one national holiday in April (Golden Week), one in August (Obon) and one in December/January (winter holiday). This alone has probably saved a number of people from just 'losing it' altogether. I know for me it always helps to recharge the batteries.

That's all for this installment of "that's Japan". Tune in next time as we delve deeper into the little details about Samurai life!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Gone and a wee party (or is that Wii party?)

Well, Suzuki's house is all but a memory now. They have left standing a single wall as you can see in this picture and there is a little single room 'house' still standing a bit to the left of this picture. I am still not too sure what the overall plan is with the property but it could mean a whole of new neighbors or something equally interesting...
Last night, Chris and Hisano threw a "yippee we have a week off in June" party for some of ESL College's students. I went down a little bit early armed with my blender, prepared to dazzle the masses with my fruit smoothie and awamori drinks (affectionately known as girly drinks).
As we awaited the students arrival we had a surprise visit from the man himself, Adam. He was filling us in on an exciting sounding meeting about some English teaching nonsense. I excused myself and headed upstairs to enjoy some of the delicious bbq'ed meat that OjiOji had cooked.
I had met Chris' student Yeni before but it was great to meet Simon (her boyfriend) and Sara (my new Facebook buddy) both very nice people.
Simon bore a bit of a resemblance to Harry Potter.
Our friends Taeko and Ayako came out and had a good laugh together between Cat Stevens songs.
Meanwhile Chris had brought his Wii which was quite a success at the party.
Thanks again to Chris for a good time at the party!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Like a bridge....

Cathy crossing the bridge at Kakegawa
Looking back at a number of the pictures I have taken over the last few years, there seems to be a couple of recurring themes that pop up. One of them is my love of photographing bridges, so I thought I might just throw a bunch of bridge pictures up for today's blog topic.
Sitting, overlooking the lake at Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa
Why the love of bridges? There must be some deep psychological reason for having such a bond with simple land extensions stretching out over water. Is it that the bridge is symbolic of always choosing what is seemingly the toughest path, but in the end the path was the easiest?
Okuni Jinja, a small bridge to the shrine.
It could be that the bridge is placed between two equally attractive destinations (like say Vancouver and Hamamatsu) and the bridge is the sign of desolation and abandonment...
Bridge outside of Osaka Castle
Is a bridge a foundation that is seemingly solid but is placed in an unreliable and potentially damning location (like a river with a strong current, or building a house in Hamakita)?
Is it just a jumbling of the letters- is it meant to point to the words "G.I. Bred"?
Suspension bridge at Forest Park
Are bridges really a cryptic message left by the aliens that originally inhabited the planet? If we align the basic physical properties of bridges to the correct position in the sky- will we find the secret to eternal life?
Las Vegas, out front of the Venetian
Is a bridge just a way from one point to another?
At Hokoji Hansobo
Does the arching of bridges just remind of the Golden Arches and make me crave the Double Teriyaki Burger at McDonalds?
Okay, not a bridge, part of the Tomei2 highway that is being built here
Or are they just nice to look at?

Okay this was officially my silliest post- but I did like the pictures, so I hope you liked one or two of them.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Monday Musings

It's Monday- which means back to work! I am finally caught up on my tales from April and May so it is back to my regular topics! Not as exciting as excursions and parties, but I will try!

Everything is still progressing well with Ritsy- doctor says we are at 5 months now and junior is at 110 grams. She brought in a videotape from the sonogram but I haven't watched it yet. She still isn't showing, but I think pretty soon she will start to develop a belly. Man, it's really happening.
The house across from mine seems to be getting torn down. It used to be a dog kennel where they bred Welsh Corgi's but I met the man that lived there last year, Suzuki, and he told me they had to close down the business. He even offered to give us a free dog, but I actually find that breed quite annoying. I was surprised to see that he had to move away as well though- he was my only neighbour that could speak some English! But as we heard the machines working away one day and walked over to the other side we could see the house was now just a shell!
My other neighbour (ironically also named Suzuki) was telling my wife she is worried that they may build an apartment building there, but I am not so worried about that idea. I think a denser populated area could help the property value of my home improve.
Now is the season for the rice crops, so the fields have been getting flooded and we can see farmers planting them. The rice season usually coincides with the Rainy Season here in Japan as you can imagine the skies provide plenty of water for the rice to flourish. Here is a farmer working on his flooded field.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Hiryu Matsuri

Last weekend on Saturday evening, Ritsy and I decided to check out the Hiryu festival near the Tenryu river- not too far from our home. I think I might have to adjust my way of thinking as I convinced my poor pregnant wife to walk the 2.5 kms rather than busing or driving there. Well she went along with it and it didn't seem to have any negative effects. To get to the area where the festival was, we had to climb the stairway pictures above which, apparently, has only be used by 1-2 people ever...
Hiryu means flying dragon and true to form they had a giant dragon suspended for all festival-goers to enjoy.
Ritsy allowed me to have a couple of beers and I tried out the offering of the Hamanako brewing company- so in this picture that is my beer she is holding- don't worry! We were able to witness a display of the Enshu Dianenbutsu (the source of much stress for me...) followed by a taiko drum performance. After that, the fireworks began.
As I got into the fireworks show, I started playing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon out in my head and started taking experimental pictures using the fireworks setting on my camera (Breathe, breathe in the air- don't be afraid to care...).
The climax of the Hanabi, the dragon started glowing with fire and it shot fireworks out of it's mouth.
Afterwards a plethora of fireworks followed ending in a series of body jarring, ear splitting bangs. It was actually pretty cool. We made the walk home and I slept on the couch for my thoughtlessness of making her walk.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ritsy's birthday (getting caught up)

Almost caught up to real time again! (huzzah!)

The Sunday before last was the day before my lovely wife (and expectant mother) Ritsuko's birthday. It was her 26th birthday yet again. The plan was dinner out, but one of my nice students had given me tickets for a Japan League soccer game Iwata Jubilo vs. Niigata Albilekusu (or something like that). We headed off the Yamaha stadium which is located conveniently right next to Yamaha motors HQ where I sometimes teach English.
The game was actually a lot faster moving that I thought it might be and pretty exciting to watch. The visiting team from Niigata had a player that came from Hamamatsu and went to school with the lady that had given me the tickets so I was happy that he scored a goal (National team member Yano), but I was cheering for the home team Iwata who lost 4-2. Iwata should have been strong in goal with National team goalkeeper Kawaguchi, but he looked average in the game.
Ritsy and I still managed to have a good time at the game and I bumped into a couple of my ESL College student's mom's at the game. On the way out, we had to avoid the smorking place- I hate it when people smork.
Next target was dinner. We had planned to return to a place called Barkley's that we had eaten at before, but upon arriving in the area and checking for it, we could not find it at all. Looked like it was closed down, I heard later that it was just moved. Well, that was trouble for me because I told her I didn't think we needed a reservation... We decided on the crab restaurant Kora. Basically everything you can eat there is crab. It was all delicious but it always costs a fair coin to eat there.
All in all it was a fun day and I think Ritsy had a nice birthday!