Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ask And You Shall Receive (or faint...)

Just when I thought I was going to have to resign myself to the fact that Halloween 2008 was going to be pumpkinless, today the parents of a couple of my students came bringing me a "little" present:

Miracle Pumpkin

Apparently they have a relative who has a more or less wild pumpkin patch in a plot next to his fields. They don't have much use for them, so they give them to whoever wants them.

They asked me if I wanted more. I told them I could probably be talked into it. ;-)

Yes, sometimes miracles do happen.

UPDATE: Here is the Jack o' Lantern I (just) made from the pumpkin in the above pic:

2008 JoL-1

As you can see, I made use of the warts. :-)

I didn't have enough time to carve the second pumpkin, which is about the same size, so I hope to do it tomorrow.

Update Two: Here is the second pumpkin, post-carving. As you can see, it's not quite as "pretty" as the first, so I went a slightly different direction theme-wise:

2008 JoL-2a

Still, when the lights go out and the (Yankee) candle is lit inside, you have to admit the effect is pretty good:

2008 JoL-2b

Oh, and by the way; this was my Halloween costume this year:

The Black Minstrel

It was one of the things I picked up for a discount at the Carrefour in Makuhari. I'd say it was a success. On Halloween I put it on and walked around Ye Olde Academy...and seriously freaked out a lot of kids (and not few teachers). The high point was when I heard a bunch of Grade 9 students in choral practice. I waited till the song was done, stepped into the doorway facing them, and was greeted with a lovely chorus of shrieks.

Now THAT'S what I call Halloween! ;-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Une recherche pour Veille de la toussaint.

October 22nd was a day long in coming.
Much, much too long.
'Twas a day I had awaited with quickening breath,
Grinding teeth,
Fingernails a-tapping.
'Twas a day that should have eased the anxiety,
Silenced the jitters,
Filled the need,
Put an end to the lackings.

October 22nd was COSTCO DAY...

The morning schedule was the Wednesday oasis,
A gloomy calm between two storms.
'Twas, as always, an open range for catching up,
Filling needs,
Meeting expectations.
'Twas a time to be grappling with apathy,
Sparring with laziness,
Not giving in,
Put fingers in the energy leaks.

4th period class done, and I was in my BLUE RAV4.

The drive to Makuhari was easy as pie.
No traffic in the early afternoon.
'Twas a time for cruising straight and quick,
Covering ground,
Avoiding resistance,
'Twas not long before I was off the expressway,
On local roads,
Soon up the ramp,
Put the car into a space found so quickly.

The search for Halloween soon began.
Certainly something had to be left.
'Twas two months before Christmas,
And all through Seasonal,
Nothing but Christmas.
'Twas not such a surprise,
So I got other things,
Whatever looked good,
Put the cart on the escalator to the food floor.

Last year the pumpkin court ruled the Produce.
So many there'd been.
'Twas different this year;
Not an orange orb in sight,
Except oranges.
'Twas such a letdown,
So I filled up my cart
With what caught my eye.
Put a gooey dent in my bank account.

On the way back toward home I spied Carrefour...;
I'd never been there.
'Twas as good a time as any.
Getting in was a pain,
The parking space tiny.
'Twas practically empty in the giant store;
Where are all the people?
Shopping somewhere else?
Put the French out of business is their plan?

In Carrefour three aisles of Halloween goodies
All twenty percent off.
'Twas two weeks before the day,
Yet already old,
And so priced to go.
'Twas just fine for me so I filled up a basket
Enough for this year,
Yet scanty I fear.
Put another one in and head food-ward.

In the supermarket section no pumpkins in sight,
And no French cheeses either.
'Twas sad, but the reason I already know:
Bought out by Jusco...
Mainstream, don't you know?
'Twas mainly the name that was French,
And some cool kitchenware,
Oh, and wine everywhere.
Put those aside and it's just like at home.

Not wanting to let the stop just go to waste
I snapped up more substance.
'Twas nothing I needed but wanted all the same:
Some Warsteiner beer,
Yankee Candles here!
'Twas fun but my wallet was howling with pain!
And I blocked the lane
Hauling bags full of gain.
Put them in the car and it groans.

And so I went home with a car not full of pumpkins,
And it was rush hour.
'Twas all Sunday drivers on this Wednesday evening,
The speed limit? No, slower.
All like tractor-mowers.
'Twas fun slaloming all the putt-dinks and grannies,
But still not so fast,
Till then home at last.
Put everything in the house in eight trips.

It seems Halloween has been catching on here.
This weird, Western holiday thriving.
'Twas scant mention of it a decade ago;
Most kids didn't know it,
So I'd work hard to show it.
'Twas so then, but it seems to be different now.
I don't really know how,
But it's much more high-brow.
Put near more well-known than Tanabata.

Anyway, my quest for pumpkins continues!!!

(Image from The INS.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And Speaking of SHOCK...

...or surprise, at any rate...

Web Shot

This is a nice, spooky, nighttime snap of the tangled web community which has sprouted in my backyard. The pale-colored blob you can see in the very center is a female kogane-gumo (related to the black and yellow garden spider of North America and the St. Andrew's Cross spider of Australia) with a body almost the size of my thumb. Her web is surrounded and crossed by at least three other webs woven by males, which are much smaller. I guess you could refer to this as "web dating". (ba-dum BUM). I have to duck under it to get to the raw garbage bin out back or to the storage shed (the building you see in the background). When I first learned of the existence of this web walking right into it (at night, to boot), it was a bit of a shock.

Actually, there have been a number of surprises lately, both good and bad:

The annual Fureai Land poster contest has just been held again. Basically all the kids of all the elementary and junior high schools in our city and several neighboring ones participate. The object is to make a poster dedicated to the Fureai Land Park here in Namegata City. (The park includes some playground equipment, a water park with water slides, a pool, and water guns, a water science museum, a pedal boat dock and sightseeing docks along Lake Kasumigaura, and the famous lookout tower.) Each school then chooses a number of representative works to send to the main contest.

Fureai poster 1

This was my son's contribution. No, it's not the most skilled work of art; my son took a lot of chiding from his mother while he was working on it since he pretty much can't draw to save his life. But it was kind of an interesting idea, being based on the Fureai Land's annual fireworks display. I think the fact that my son used mixed media (his idea), something that was very unusual, got the judges' attention. That little gold rectangle on the lower left corner is an award. Specifically, it is an "academy award" bestowed by a non-profit group that cares for Lake Kasumigaura. Few if any other works from the schools in our area got anything, so it was a pleasant surprise. (In my wife's case, demanding as she is, it was almost cause to faint.)

Fureai poster 2

Here's the proud, little guy. He was pretty blown away by it, too.

Fureai poster 3

This was his older sister's contribution. It's certainly colorful, but... She spent a LOT of time on it, but she didn't get anything (except for being chosen as a representative of her school, which I guess is something). She wasn't very happy.

Fureai poster 4

Here's a shot of my son from the Water Science Museum looking toward the tower that was the centerpiece of his poster. Yes, he was happy...ya think?

This was the most pleasant surprise of the past couple of weeks. I'm not so sure about these, however:

  • Pouring a nice, ice-cold, expensive, premium beer into my favorite, artistically-sculpted beer glass...and having it suddenly shatter, sending the beer (and glass) all over the floor.
  • Having someone from Kashima City Hall call me at Ye Olde Academy and say, "We have a festival coming up on [date] with a live music event. We're unable to fill one half-hour slot starting at 11:30. Can you have your school jazz band perform then?" I replied, "We're committed in the morning on that day, but we could..." "Okay, bye!" interrupted the voice on the other end followed by an abrupt click. (Gee...are we the local space filler?)
  • Having my father-in-law suddenly tell me and my wife that he wants us to make a name and address list for the people he knows that attended my mother-in-law's funeral...all 690+ of them. (He already has a very good mailing list program on his computer, one intended for New Year cards, that I have already shown him how to use three times now using his notes from his computer class! He still insists that he can't do it because he doesn't know how and is too busy [drinking tea] to figure it out.)
  • Double-checking the schedule and seeing that I have plenty of time to return my students' exams and double-check the grading with them...only to find out that there was a change, and I was supposed to have had everything finalized the day before.
  • Suddenly being told that the Kashima Philharmonic (aka "the Titanic, post-iceberg") expects me to store and handle the big mass of promotional fliers and posters for our next concert.
  • Watching the more serious and dedicated members of the Kashima Philharmonic (cue "My Heart Will Go On") suddenly start getting fed up and jumping overboard one by one only about a month and a half before the next concert.
  • Watching oil prices double and then almost halve again...while gasoline prices go up 50% and then come down only about 20%.
  • Watching what almost seemed like the end of the world as we know it (cue R.E.M.) only to see it start bouncing back again...we hope.
Of course, not all the surprises have been sources of stress. The Roland MIDI controller my wife gave me for my anniversary is a nice, fun toy and a very useful tool to use at work!

(A bit different from what I gave her, but oh well.)

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

News du Jour

Just what is it with the TV news?

Granted, the Japanese network news programs aren't quite as bad. They at least offer a relatively fair balance of news coverage a good portion of the time (but definitely not ALL the time). But the last time I tried watching CNN and BBC...

World events? BLITVERT MODE!!!!! z-z-z-z-Z I P !

The latest OH, NO, SHOCK on the home front? H O L D I N G P A T T E R N ! ! ! ! !

Had enough? Okay...
Now more from the U.S. presidential photo-op and smear session campaign:

*pant pant pant*

And now for the latest celebrity with an owie on his or her life...which we'll talk about for the next month!!!!!

Anybody else fed up with it? I am. I made a song about it, too:

News du Jour

(Actually, some people have complained that I haven't done any really silly songs for a long time. Hopefully this will satisfy them for a while. It definitely hearkens back to my mid 90s style.)

More info on my Minstrel's Muse site.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Very Superstitious...

(funky clav starts playing in the background)

Yes, we're coming into spooky season. The Autumnal Equinox has been crossed, and the balance is tipping toward the forces of winter and darkness (also known as "The Dead"...or "politicians"). Already the climate has changed from being hot and muggy all day and all night to just hot and muggy during the day and chilly at night, making wardrobe selection a far greater challenge (i.e. you actually have to wear clothes at night). The grating cacophony of the cicadas has finally given way to the gentle chirping of my kids fighting over their Nintendo DSes the crickets, which are considered good luck in Japan.

Speaking of luck, as we approach Halloween (which reportedly at least one community in Massachusetts is trying to reschedule for "safety reasons"), that most supernatural of seasons, superstition once again comes to the forefront. Images of black cats, broken mirrors, Sarah Palin, etc., remind us that spiritual powers are coming into full swing.

So what about here in Japan? Are there Japanese superstitions that differ from their Western counterparts? The answer is a very evil-sounding YES! Japan has a wealth of superstitions that date from ancient times (i.e. my students are still hard pressed to remember ANY of them, but anyway...).

  • Back in ancient times it seemed like there were lucky and unlucky cycles for just about everything. Back in the Heian Era, often called Japan's golden age, there were even certain directions in which one couldn't go each day without suffering bad luck, or so it was believed. That made travel a tricky affair; you either had to time your trips so that you moved in a lucky direction or take a roundabout route to avoid the cursed direction (which sounds like trying to go somewhere making only left turns, but anyway...). That tradition has long since faded to zero, as well as the lucky times for eating certain foods, playing music in certain keys, or wearing one's clothing a certain way, but there are still lucky and unlucky days marked on the calendar. Major events are almost always timed so that they appear on a "taian" (大安 - means "great security") day, which is luckiest. "Butsumetsu" (仏滅 - means "Buddha's death") days, on the other hand, are strictly avoided.
  • Speaking of death, there are many superstitions based on funeral traditions. For example, one never embeds his chopsticks in his rice fully upright. (That's a rite for the dead.) One never folds his garment right-over-left. (That's only done on the body of a deceased.) Two people should never hold the same piece of food with their chopsticks at the same time or hand something chopsticks-to-chopsticks directly. (That's only done after a funeral, when two people together pick up a single bone fragment of the deceased with chopsticks and place it in the burial urn. See my post on my mother-in-law's funeral.) When eating, one should keep his rice on the left and his soup on the right. (The opposite is apparently another funeral tradition, or so I'm told.)
  • Funerals themselves have superstitions of their own. After a funeral it is customary to avoid taking a direct route home so as to throw off any spirits that might be trying to follow. Also, before entering one's house afterward, one should sprinkle salt over oneself so as to purge any spirits that might be hitching a ride and keep them from getting inside. (Packets of salt for that purpose are always included in the gift bags given to funeral guests.) Some people also sprinkle salt around the front door just in case the spirits try to sneak in on their own.
  • Black cats have no significance in Japan, but crows do. In ancient times, crows were believed to be harbingers of death, and the sight of a murder of them (Yes, that's the correct term) gathering outside someone's house was a very bad sign. It was also not good if a crow perched outside someone's window and watched him intently (as seems to happen a lot at Ye Olde Academy whenever I give an exam).
  • Life after dark can be a tricky affair. Whistling is out. (It's said to attract snakes and/or ghosts.) So is cutting your toenails. (It's said to attract burglars.)
  • As in the West, certain numbers are believed to be unlucky. One of them is 4; one of its readings is "shi" [四], which sounds like the Japanese word for "death" [死]. The other is 9, whose reading "kyu" sounds like Japanese words meaning "suffer" [窮], "enmity" or "evil" [仇], "rot" [朽], as well as "weep" or "grieve" [泣] . (It also sounds like both "father-in-law" [舅] and "rescue" [救], but oh well.)
There are certainly others, but I'll end the list here.

If you think these superstitions sound odd, whoever came up with the idea that finding a four-leaf clover brings good luck, or that you should toss salt over your shoulder if you spill it? I've heard it said that there's a lot of common sense in superstition, but there isn't a whole lot of logic. Now if you'll excuse me, I'd better go light some incense to help prevent my MIL's ghost from haunting the place.

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