Saturday, December 2, 2017

Moving to Meguro -- Black Cats RULE!

I now live in the Cupboard Over the Stairs, an apartment roughly the size of a walk-in closet in any American suburban house.  I think it's just a hair larger than the broom closet (yes, it was really a broom closet) in London that sold for over a million pounds quite a long time ago.

It was easy to move:  I called KuronekoYamato transport company.  Their logo is a black cat carrying a kitten, which has proven so popular that it's now incorporated into their name, kuro being black and neko being cat.  I packed the things, they came and got them at the promised time, loaded them into a mini-containerette and they vanished, in the space of some 15 minutes, to reappear when and where I wanted them.  It was cheap, too.  Black cats ROCK!

A Butsudan is a Buddhist altar.  They come in all sizes and range from simple to fancy.  Often, the Butsudan itself (where the object of practice resides) is quite small, and everything else that encompasses an alter must be incorporated through the use of other pieces of furniture.  Sometimes everything comes in matching sets, but it's several pieces of furniture. can get an all in one unit.  The one I ordered is cabinet style, about as tall as I am.  Closed, it is a tall cabinet. Open, there is the actual Butsudan, with doors, and all the shelves, some of which pull out, to make the complete set in one tidy package.  Mine is ebony.  It is lovely.  It fits in the World's Smallest Apartment nicely and looks elegant and respectful.  I wish I was a decent photographer, but I'm not.  Imagination is a wonderful thing.

The maker shipped it via KuronekoYamato.  It was to arrive the same day as the rest of my things.  Imagine my surprise when both the Butsudan and the mini-containerette arrived together, on the very same truck!  Black cats RULE!

When Japan does things right, they are superbly right.

I wish I could upload a picture!

Friday, November 10, 2017

A pretty city, a lovely temple, a great "subway." And STAIRS.

Busan is a pretty city, arranged on the lower slopes of wooded hills/mountains around an extensive harbor.  I arrived, took a cab to the guesthouse, and was promptly lost.  There were no signs and there was a network of alleys.  A nice local man guided me to the proper place, over there, two turns into an alley, among dozens of its fellows.  Busan is full of motels, mini-tels, guesthouses, hostels and other small places one can stay in greater or lesser comfort, in every single neighborhood.  My pre-trip research discovered only those and wildly expensive Raddisons, Hiltons and Westins.

That's when I discovered the Korean love of STAIRS.  Endless stairs.  Everywhere.  Settled in and hungry, I set out to see two things on the reputedly superior Humetro "subway" (often it's a El).  The first was Beomoesa, pronounced Po-Mo-Sa, a Buddhist temple dating to the 600s, and a vegetarian restaurant supposedly located just outside it.  It has its own stop on the number 1 (red) line, so that seemed easy enough.  After leaving the train station, I had read it was possible, just, to hike up to the actual temple, but it was better to take the bus.  It took me a while to find the stop, which is hidden from the station, and there are no signs.  This is another thing about Busan.  There are no SIGNS in any language all too often, or they lead to dead ends or someplace else instead.  If one has the written Hangul, one can match the pictures easily enough, but not if there is nothing to compare with what you have.

And I'd been so impressed by the Humetro!  Modern, clean, easy -- except for the stairs, but there were occasional elevators.  Korean, English and often Japanese on the signs, and the train announced itself in those three languages plus Chinese.  The people were kind and friendly -- this is how I learned how Beomeosa is properly pronounced.  The Romanizations aren't pronounced anything like the way they're written, so it's necessary to learn each separately.

The temple is gorgeous, and seems to require and undergo continual renovation and repair, as would I if I were that old.  There was work going on everywhere.  The style isn't Indian, it isn't Chinese and it isn't Japanese.  It is uniquely Korean, full of color and life, lots of flowers painted in patterns that are almost middle-eastern in complexity.  The statues look Indian to me.  Since it's not my kind of Buddhism -- it was hard to determine exactly what kind it is, as there appeared to be several versions going on -- I admired the art and the history.  This temple offers temple-stays, so one can stay there and learn about their meditative practice, and eat their vegetarian food!  I drooled at the thought.  A few monks were around, but mostly it was nuns who were running the show, in each of the various buildings, providing security and leading meditation sessions and things like that.  They wear grey trousers, some kind of long-sleeved blouse, T-shirt or sweater (that's not uniform) and a grey vest, with the jackets of their choice.  They do not shave their heads, but their hair tended to the short and simple, often with curls.  Both men and women seemed to wear a kind of plastic skimmer flat with a pinched and slightly upturned toe.

After climbing all the stairs and reading all the signs and enjoying all the art,  I tried to find the vegetarian restaurant, which is not connected to the temple.  It also, as far as I could tell, does not exist.  Starving and hurting from all the stairs, I caught a cab back to the station.  A nun flagged the cab and I nodded when the driver indicated he'd like to pick her up.  She only spoke Korean, as did he, so my attempts to find out more were foiled.  She contributed her share to the fare so all was well.

The first of two monks I saw is pictured not exactly below, but there's a link, beating a huge drum.  They incorporate a lot of music into their practice, with gourd-type instruments, singing and then this DRUM!

Well, I've been trying for days now, and cannot get the pictures to send through e-mail but I have got many of them to the Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy's Facebook page.  Here's the link, so head on over there, and please do like the page.

Now FB won't let me put the photos on the TGSB page, but check it out and like it anyway.
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy on FB. Please like.

I HAVE managed to get bunches of the photos on my personal FB page.  That's here.
My personal FB Page, where the photos are.  You can like that, too, if you want, but the TGSB page is where I put most of the interesting stuff.

Monday, November 6, 2017

On the way to Busan -- PICTURES!

 They're backwards, of course!  Entering the beautiful harbor at Busan/
 Another angle.  Busan is a lovely city with several harbors connected by bridges.
This view is of the city center, aiming right for the International Ferry Terminal.  It's a flowing, arching modern building, quite lovely as is almost all the modern architecture in Busan.

 This is the overnight ferry that took me there.  It sails to and from Osaka, three times a week, and carries cargo as well as people.  It's like a Canadian ferry, and you can bring a car if you like.  Since Busan drives on the right and Japan on the left, you might not want too.
 We're leaving Osaka, a pretty city in its own right.  We exit the inner harbor and go right by KIX, built on its very own created island.

 And we head off into the sunset.
 We're approaching the bridge that connects Honshu with Shikoku as we navigate the Inland Sea.
Here's a closer look.  With the two-person staterooms, you get a random roommate.  Mine was a friendly Korean woman married to a Japanese man, so we were able to speak Japanese.  These smaller cabins don't have their own heads -- it's down the hall -- and the bath is an ofuro, which is referred to as a sauna.  It has one of those, too.  There's a hot soaking tub, and a cool one, too.  Bring your own towels.  I now own two, at 200 yen each, from the on-board shop.  They are the hand-towel sized ones like they give you at Japanese inns for souvenirs.

There is a tricky passage -- well, several, actually, but on the outbound leg we went through one at about 9 PM.  This is a heavily trafficked and well marked area with lots of tiny harbors with their own marked entries.  It's necessary to count the flashes to see which marks to follow.  Often, there are also mid-channel buoys.  Things are further complicated by the area's extensive fishing industry.

More next time.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Typhoon Lan

Mt. Fuji stands serene
Over the littered beaches,
With swells breaking hard and high
Confounding hopeful surfers.

The fishing boats will return tomorrow
From their hiding places up the river.
The pouring rain's moved out,
The wind that uprooted trees and tore off roofs has calmed.

The cleanup crews will shovel clear the sand blocking flood channels
And burying the paved paths
Already hosting bikers and walkers,
out to see the aftermath.

Typhoon Lan has passed.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Meiji Era: why?

In 1858, Commodore Perry sailed in to Edo Bay, displaying weapons and technology that didn't exist in Japan at that time, demanding that Japan open its doors to foreign trade, specifically trade with the United States.

The shogunate was weak and the isolated society of Japan had stultified, with its warriors turned to bureaucrats who elevated the skills of war to precise art forms, with a totalitarian mindset geared to keeping everything in perfect order, and keeping the foreigners, who had caused so much trouble some 200 and more years before, out.

The first treaties were incredibly unfavorable to Japan, and it became clear that the Westerners planned to turn Japan into some kind of puppet colony.  Western imperialism was at its height all over the world, and there were new and incredible increases in technology and social reform, given impetus by the US Civil War.  The cotton gin, the rifle, railroads and steamships were all part of this continuing Industrial Revolution taking place in the 19th Century.  Steamships could sail against the wind, and quickly made the clipper ships obsolete, taking over transportation of goods and people.  But they needed fuel, and simply could not make it from the West Coast of the US to China and the Spice Islands without stopping.  Japan was the logical stopping point: Japan had food, water and most importantly, coal, so the US decided Japan was a place it needed to conquer and control.

This did not sit well with Japan, and in 1868 the new young Emperor Meiji secured the resignation of the shogun and assumed actual day to day power.  Though of course the Emperor and Empress did not act alone, these patriotic and intelligent people did something that nearly defies belief: they kept their country free; moreover, they made it a serious player on the world stage, while it remained and remains, uniquely itself.

The Westerners had never understood how the Japanese system worked -- still don't, in fact -- and didn't know who was actually in charge of what.  The Emperor moved the capital to Edo, rechristened Tokyo (eastern capital), and began making changes, with astounding rapidity and real success.

By the end of the Meiji era, in 1912, Japan had become a first-world power with mighty ambitions.  How did this happen?  What effect did this astonishing period of breakneck change have on the people who lived in the little country that not only could, but did?

This is the world of the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy.

This series incorporates genuine folklore, combines it with accurate history, and builds real stories reflecting the Japanese culture that continues to exist and influence the world.  While the Edo period, the Heian and other earlier periods are fun to research, explore and write in,  just as medieval Europe continues to fascinate authors and scholars, it is the Meiji period that brings us real revelations about the depth and breadth of Japanese character as it adapts to sudden and drastic change.

It's written about two children whose lives are complicated by the fact that they are bird-children, dual natured beings who can be children or birds, their human uncle and their various friends, who might or might not be dual natured, or even human.  The fantastic nature allows the supernatural to supersede technology where necessary and to dive deep into cultural as well as personal depths.  The series ages as the children do, and we are now up to the early 1870s.

Folklore also makes things fun!  The personal relationship between the Japanese Dragon King and the European Dragon Queen provides a backdrop for the relationships between East and West, and their dual natured children give them cross-cultural difficulties not unlike those of the humans over whom they fly.  The horses not only talk but their trials reflect the affect of technology on agrarian life for farmers and the military.  The talented Toki-Girl's commercial successes and failures and the underemployed Ninja illustrate not only the changes in the roles of women, but changes in the commercial landscape that altered the lives of not just people but entire classes of society.

Unlike any other series exploring Japanese culture, The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series reveals depths roiled by the currents of massive change and shows how those cultural depths adjust and continue to adjust to constant social and technological attack, through the personal stories of one small group of regular people.

And they are also cracking good reads for ages 8 through adult.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Life on the Floor: Part 7 -- 7-11 What can't it do?

7-11 is ubiquitous in Japan.  It's owned by the massive 7 & i Holding company, which also owns Ito-Yokado, a massive department store chain, which is sort of a Target-equivalent.

It seems like you can do just about ANYTHING at 7-11.  Grocery shopping?  Sure.  The products are the same as you'll find in the Ito-Yokado supermarket in the basement of the department store, same quality, same packaging and same prices.  The selection isn't as wide and very low on perishables aside from breads and prepared foods like sandwiches, rice balls, and bentos, mostly because the store isn't as big, but it truly is possible to do all your food and beverage shopping at 7-11 if you need to.

There's also a cash machine that works for just about every bank and everybody.  No fees.  Of course not.  They want you to spend your money -- at least some of it -- before you get out of the store!  There is even a 7 & i full-service bank, but it's not usually the best choice for a variety of reasons.

Assorted gift cards?  They have those.

Pay your utility bills?  Right up there at the counter.

Charge your IC (prepaid transportation -- train, subway and bus, some taxis -- and minor convenience store-type purchase) card?  Yep.  Just buy something small using your card, which can be empty, and ask that it be recharged with the cash you hand over.

Ship things by courier?  Of course, if you have the waybill and envelope, though I suppose they'll be happy to give them to you.  I think you can get the waybill for larger items that need to be picked up right there, too.

Is there anything 7-11 can't do?

I found something.

My phone is a pre-paid.  Usually, I buy a prepaid card at, you guessed it, 7-11, and enter it into the phone, no worries.  But I had a surprise last week!  I couldn't get a Softbank prepaid card at 7-11!  I gather you can get them at some stores, but not all.  So I had to trudge up to the Softbank Store, and wait 45 minutes -- truly unconscionable -- to get a "card" -- really a piece of paper -- printed out with a number I could then enter into my phone.

To be fair to Softbank, they kept trying to get me to recharge my phone on-line, but I haven't had any luck with that in the past.  I am not sure I have tried to do this inside Japan, so next time, I'll give it another go.  Before I start walking, prepared to wait far too long.

Things are different here.  7-11 is (mostly) very convenient indeed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Yabusame is a kind of mounted archery done on various occasions, from Shinto Shrine festivals to (apparently) opening racetracks for the season.  The riding is gorgeous, the archery impressive.  It dates combat archery, formalized about 600 CE.  Azuki likes it, but Blackie won't let her fall!

I went to see it at the Samukawa Shrine, where it's an annual event.  Silly me:  I thought this event was probably people from the local barn having fun with their horses!  It's so much more than that.

Here's the link that gives ALL the information.  And, yes, those are the horses and people we saw ride.  Take a look at the videos!  It's a HUGE WOW of a good time.

Yes, there are historic costumes and some Shinto rituals -- and also food stalls, games, music and entertainment.  If you ever get a chance to see this, it's worth it.  I'm going to go again!

The history of Yabusame with VIDEOS!