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.