Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My One Day of Spring Vacation

Well, fate and the powers that be were kind enough to allow my family's various schedules to come together into a nexus for one whole day. In other words, as a family, we had ONE FREE DAY to share during this Spring Vacation. Naturally, we'd been looking forward to it for some time.

Naturally, my father-in-law immediately tried to hijack it. You see, in the universe he lives in, there is no such thing as a day off from work. Being free from your regular job should never happen, and if it somehow does, it means you spend all day working at home (or, in his case, going around shoving his nose into other people's business in the interest of "correcting" them). Things were complicated even further by the fact that doctors recently found my father-in-law has a kidney stone. The doctors don't seem to think it's very serious, and he has suffered little if any pain from it, but it's still enough for him to whine about being an invalid (as long as he has an audience; otherwise, he follows his usual routine without variation). Naturally, when he found out I was going to be free today, he immediately insisted that I spend much if not most if not all of the day tilling his beloved eighth-of-an-acre field. I told him I would have nothing of it, saying that there was no way I was going to give up that ONE DAY of Spring Vacation I could spend with the wife and kids. I got an earful of guilt trip, as expected, but that's just life.

Our plan was to get up early, hop in my BLUE RAV4, and head for Yokohama in time to beat the crowds. Everyone was in agreement there, but alas, it was easier said than done. I actually managed to get myself up and ready to go at a decent hour, but my newly teenified daughter required a threat of ice cubes in her bed to get her to budge. Then my wife, true to form, insisted that my son clean his room first. My son is not only careless, he is a slob. He's also a careless slob who is very easily distracted. It's hard to get him to do anything that takes longer than ten seconds to finish, and it's even harder to get him to do it without breaking things or making another, bigger mess in the process. Needless to say, by the time we loaded up in the car we were already way behind schedule. That was when FIL suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started loading the guilt trip on my wife. We didn't give any ground on going out for the day, but we decided to compromise on one issue: we went to tend MIL's grave first before heading out.

We arrived at the Higashi-Kanto Expressway to find it unusually crowded with slow Sunday drivers. You see, the government, in an effort to encourage more people to install Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) units on their cars before the start of the new fiscal year, has been subsidizing the purchase of the devices for a period that will end on the 31st of this month (i.e. I need to get mine tomorrow morning!). Not only that, but users of ETC units now get a whopping discount on highway tolls. At the same time, however, there is also a crackdown in progress on the speed with which ETC-users shoot through the toll gates. There were a lot of cars on the expressway. Traffic was moving, thank goodness, but there were a LOT of people cruising up to 20 clicks under the speed limit, and the lines at the ETC lanes of the toll gates were really long (meaning few lanes were allocated for people WITHOUT ETC units...). We managed to make good time nonetheless, and after only about ninety minutes we rolled toward the giant, public parking center under the famous Conference Center... find the entrance blocked with a big, red sign saying, "FULL". Luckily, there were still some spots available in the obscenely overpriced parking garage under Yokohama Landmark Tower.

And so we spent the day shopping at the Landmark Tower Plaza and other nearby shopping malls. (Actually, in my case I mainly stood around looking bored while my wife and daughter spent the day shopping, but whatever.) I did find a half-price clearance sale of English books at the bookstore there, so I grabbed a bunch of books I'll hopefully remember to read sometime before I die. I also failed to resist buying more import munchies at the Sony Plaza store. We had lunch at the Sizzler there, which made everyone happy, though I was a bit disappointed. Both the service and the salad/soup/dessert/bread bar were really nice, but the grilled herb chicken I ordered had a tough crust on the bottom and tasted like the chef just grabbed a bunch of spices off the shelf and dumped them on without any respect for the flavor of the chicken itself (which was quite good, actually). The grilled chicken with yuzu marinade that my wife ordered was much better. After that we split up a bit so the kids could hit their haunts and my wife and I could have a "date" (that consisted of her shopping for clothes for the kids and complaining that she couldn't find anything in my daughter's size). Once that was all done, we loaded up in the BLUE RAV4 so we could get back at a reasonable hour (and hopefully reduce the amount of griping from my FIL).

LT Engrish
Yokohama Landmark Tower is in Minato Mirai, perhaps the most cosmopolitan area of arguably Japan's most cosmopolitan city...but they STILL can't get their English right! The Japanese means, "Watch your step."

As it turned out, however, my wife realized she had never been in the giant Carrefour store in Makuhari, about halfway home, so we popped in there...and wound up getting totally wrapped up in its amazing deli and bakery sections. It's hard to believe that the Carrefour very nearly went out of business when the Costco opened about a kilometer away, but it survived thanks to a takeover by the local Aeon/Jusco department store chain. Its selection is now a combination of Jusco's line and Carrefour's import items. I've heard people say they're now disappointed with it, but I don't know. I never saw Carrefour before Aeon/Jusco acquired it, and as far as I'm concerned its food market selection is excellent. We'll definitely go there again sometime.

The drive back took forever because the expressway was even more clogged up with outrageously slow drivers. (I mean, come on! 80 kph [50 mph] on a posted 100 kph [63 mph] expressway? With neither wind nor rain?!?) By the time we got back it was well after dark, and FIL was upset about both the low level of kerosene in the bath-heater's tank and the fact that there were still the unused corners. I filled the tank (and let HIM pull the weeds), and then we all enjoyed a dinner of take-out Subway sandwiches.

So much for Spring Vacation this year. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in enough time for a Costco run...or to get an ETC unit while the government is still helping foot the bill.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Non-PC Bus

Rule of the Office of the President #743: off-color jokes can make people see red. President Obama's recent quip to Jay Leno about his bowling skills being akin to the Special Olympics has definitely ruffled some feathers. Not only that, but it seems to have gotten the self-appointed Political Correctness Police (PCP) newly re-interested in our culture's use of the "R-word" (RETARD!!!). I can imagine that there will be a lot of ranting, finger pointing, and soul-searching about that word (RETARD!!!) for some time...

...which makes me wonder how people would react to this bus:

Non-PC Bus

What the Sam Hill (that RETARD!!!) is a "powertard brake", anyway?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tribal Culture?

These days I've had a special affinity for the Baroque composer Telemann. One reason is that his personal history bears a superficial resemblance to mine. As with me, his parents tried very hard to steer him away from music, even to the point of more or less forcing him to major in a university subject that was more commercially "safe" but didn't really suit him (in his case law). However, he continued to do music on his own, and he was able to make headway in it mainly thanks to both his own efforts and the various contacts he made. Another reason I like Telemann is that, even despite (or perhaps because of) the enormous volume of compositions he cranked out, he was known to be one of the most progressive composers of his day. He often used unusual combinations of instruments. He was also fond of experimenting with musical structures and rhythms which were wholly uncommon at the time. In other words, he's definitely a man (or at least a ghost) after my own heart.

I'm not sure why, but recently I began to think to myself: "You know, Telemann may have tried a lot of different things in his music, but he never made a tune in African or Afro-Caribbean style. If he were to try, what would it sound like...?"

Well, I decided to find out. This is the result. Tribal Culture. More details can be found on my Minstrel's Muse site.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Speaking of Kanji... about a little shodo (書道 - traditional brush calligraphy)? We're at the tail end of the school year now, and the 8th and 9th grade calligraphy projects are on display in the hallways. Let me share some that caught my eye:

Shodo 1

The one in the upper left (創想) would probably be read "sōsō" if it were a real word. The first kanji, whose ON (japonified Chinese) reading is "sō", means "to create". The second kanji, which also has the ON reading "sō", means "to imagine". I'd say it's a pretty imaginative creation!

The one in the upper middle is a real word. It is "jūjitsu" (充実), which means "completion". I don't know what the student is talking about, but perhaps it's a reference to getting one's assignment done on time!

The one in the upper right is a single kanji, 再. With an added kana, it has the kun (assigned Japanese) reading "futatabi", which means "once again". By itself it usually has the ON reading "sai", which is kind of like the "re-" prefix in English (as in "redo", "remake", etc.). I wonder how many times the student had to do this one to get it right.

The middle right one is the kanji 上, which by itself usually has the kun reading "ue", meaning "up", "over", or "on top". When paired with another kanji it most often takes the ON reading "jō" and usually means "upper" or "upward". Hmm. A bit of subtle bragging, or an invitation to look up?

The lower right one, 幸, has a number of different readings. It's a bit old fashioned for it to appear alone, but when it does it either has the kun reading "sachi", meaning "happiness" (or "delicacy" in reference to food) or the ON reading "kō", meaning "good luck". I'd call that a nice bit of optimism on someone's part.

The lower middle one, 誉, doesn't usually appear alone. It has the ON reading "yo", but it is most commonly used in its kun reading together with kana to form the word "homeru", meaning "to praise". Good job!

Which brings me to the middle one...the one that REALLY caught my eye. It's not kanji at all. It's an example of writing in the katakana phonetic alphabet. What does it spell out? "Hakuna matata." Yes, that's right; it's the line from Disney's "The Lion King". The student's class performed the musical version of "The Lion King" at our school festival last September. They did a damned good job, too. Someone is obviously proud of that. No worries!

Shodo 2

Which brings us to our next example. The upper left one is the kanji 喝, ON reading "katsu", kun reading with added kana "shikaru", both of which mean basically "to scold" or "to cuss out". No comment necessary.

The one on the upper right is written in the hiragana phonetic alphabet, and it says "kejime", which means "difference". It's all the same to me.

The one in the middle has the ON reading "shi" and the kun reading "haji" which, in combination with kana or other kanji, forms words meaning "begin" or "beginning". It's a start.

The one on the middle right is read "shinka", and it means "evolution". Perhaps it's there to balance out the "creation" one on the other panel I showed?

The lower right one is "doryoku", which means "effort". I think it needed a bit more...

The lower middle one has the ON reading "shin" and, using its kun reading plus extra kana, forms the word "nobiru", which means "to grow", "to lengthen", "to extend", or "to become exhausted". It also appears in the word "nosu", a somewhat archaic term meaning "to journey". Yes, life is a journey, and hopefully one grows along the way (but without getting too exhausted).

Which brings us to the one on the lower left. It is a three-kanji word, "kōjōshin", which is a noun meaning "progressiveness" or "aspiration". What a radical idea!

Speaking of which...there's that one on the middle left. I'm not sure if the artist thought s/he was being clever or comedic, but I have to wonder if it's a bit hypocritical. After all, s/he gave up on writing kanji!

And thus concludes our lesson for this...whatever period of time it is.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Quite Enough

I know.
But I've already heard, thank you.

I know things aren't looking bright,
But today was a good day,
And I want to savor the moment.

I know you're worried.
The banks are dropping like flies.
But I don't need to hear yet again how it's "all America's fault".
It's not like Japan's hands are clean.

I know you're feeling stressed.
You dumped all that money into stock.
You thought it was a free path to fortune.
But when you gamble you sometimes lose.
Right now I just want to enjoy my dinner.

I know things may get even worse.
It could be the end of the world as we know it.
The great engines of commerce could seize up and stall.
One day we could wake up and find we've lost everything.
But it is not this day.
Right now I just don't care.

But at least I got another song out of it.

(More details on my Minstrel's Muse site.)

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Colorful Tanka

(For those of you that don't know, a tanka is a traditional Japanese poem consisting of thirty-one syllables.)


AokurumaBlue car
Midori no hokoriGreen dust
Chairo sugiBrown sugi*
Kagami ni akameIn the mirror, red eyes
Kita haru no iroSpring's colors have arrived

(*Sugi - also known as the "Japanese cedar", though it is related to the redwood.  One of nature's more insidious forms of chemical warfare...)

Monday, March 09, 2009

The (Disturbed) State of the Nation

In a poll taken two weeks ago in this country, 71% of respondents said they thought Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso should resign as a result of both his incompetence and public sentiment that he is becoming increasingly out of touch with current issues. This compares to 13% that supported him and 45% who felt the country should instead be led by the main opposition leader, Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa.

(A campaign poster for the DPJ featuring Ozawa. The caption says, "The Father of Japan moves," or something like that.)

Now 57% of poll respondents are saying Ozawa should resign both as DPJ chief and as a member of the Diet as a result of a recently uncovered political donation scandal.

The voting public can be pretty fickle, can't it? Then again, so can politicians' morals.

As for me, I'm 100% fed up with politics in general, but since I can't vote, it doesn't really matter, does it?

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

White Fright Night

And now at long last it is March. One of the warmest winters on record is drawing to a close here on the Kanto Plain. The plum trees are blooming, hay fever season has already begun, and the school year is rapidly drawing to a close. Yes, the rapid approach of spring is tangible in the air.

So guess what it did tonight:

Snowy March 1

Yes, I know it's nothing like what they got in Oregonianland not too long ago, but this is not an area that gets snowed on much.

Snowy March 2

Isn't it pretty? And it looks like it's only just getting started.

I just hope to God it'll all be gone by the time I have to try to get to work tomorrow morning. Some of those hilly, narrow roads are NOT fun in snow or ice, believe me!

Snowy March 3

I hope you're all staying nice and warm!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Okay, How About This?

You know, after giving "Herald of the Dawn" (my latest posted musical work) a number of listens as well as reading the comments I got from certain people, I decided I wasn't satisfied with it after all. I went back and added another track, one that definitely adds a bit more flavor.

Please give it a listen and tell me what you think.