Friday, June 30, 2006

Try and guess what kind of clinic this is for

Try and guess what kind of clinic this is for...

Hi folks. Sorry for not posting anything the last couple of days. I've actually been super busy with work, trying to put together a booklet of handwriting exercises for my students to do over the summer holidays. Yes, I know, I'm a cold-hearted bastard. But these kids' handwriting is almost impossible to decypher, so I have to do something about it.

Anyway, I've decided to accept Suby's challenge. But this means I'm getting really stingy with what I post for now, since I don't want to use up anything now that I might want for the challenge.

So I decided to go for a little levity for today. This is an actual billboard for a urologist's clinic in Kamakura. It never ceases to amaze me the kinds of things I see ads for over here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bamboo water channels at Hase temple, Kamakura

Bamboo water channels at Hase Temple in Kamakura

There's something very zen about this. Simple yet beautiful.

Oh yeah, and Suby, I'm ready for your challenge, bring it on! I'm ready to take things to the next level.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hungry Carp at Hasedera, Kamakura

Hungry carp

Many temples have ponds with these ceremonial carp in them. This pond had quite a few, and they seemed to be particularly hungry for some reason.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A raven in flight

A raven flying off the Buddha's head

I was standing behind the Buddha statue that I showed in yesterday's post, when I saw this raven sitting on its head. I got my camera out to take a picture of it, and I was just in time to snap it as it was taking off.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Great Buddha of Kotoku-in, Kamakura

The Great Buddha at Kotoku-in

Well, first I want to say thank you to each and every one of you who have been visiting my blog over the past little while. I'd especially like to thank those who left comments. They really do mean a lot to me.

Second, I should apologize for going so long without posting anything. And then posting that last picture. I guess I should call that a lapse in judgement, which nobody's immune to I'm sure.

But I'm ready to get back to business now.

I took a day-trip with some of my students to Kamakura a few days back. My first stop was Kotoku-in temple, home of a Great Buddha statue. I'll call this my "baseline" shot, since I'm planning to post a few others over the next few days. In the meantime, I thought it might be nice to get a clean view of the statue from the front. I hope you like it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Oshibori Penguin

Hi folks. Sorry for not posting anything the last few days. Things have been really busy over here, and I just got my computer back from the NEC repair facility, so I can finally get a hold of Photoshop and start doing some cool image editing.


My friend Greg with a little penguin he made from a wet towel

In the meantime, here's a little something from the archives. Here in Japan, restaurants give their patrons special wet towels called oshibori as they sit down. Most restaurants have them professionally washed, then sealed in a small plastic packet. They're hot in the winter, cold in the summer, and a nice way to clean your hands as you whet your appetite looking over the menu.

In keeping with the cutsey theme that's so prevalent in Japan, many people like to fold them up into cute little critters, and use the plastic packet to hold it together. Here's a penguin my friend Greg made the other day.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A giant saw in Odaiba, Tokyo

A big saw in Odaiba

This is yet another example of an oddball sculpture. Odaiba is a rather odd place--a mix of corporate buildings, convention centers, manufacturers' showrooms, and amusement parks/dating spots. Right along the road to the Tokyo Big Sight convention center, they have this giant saw sticking up from the ground. I have no clue why they chose this of all things, but I have to admit it does add another touch of levity to the place.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Tokyo Metropolitan government building at night

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building at night

I was walking around the skyscraper district of Shinjuku one night when I saw the Metropolitan Building like this. I thought it was really cool how the spires of the building seem to be piercing through the clouds in the night sky.

An Izakaya Lantern

A lantern in front of a pub near my place

Well, it's Friday, and I thought I'd show off one of my favourite shots to date. I've been saving this one for quite a while now. And since it is Friday, and the minds of many of us turn to indulging and imbibing, I thought this a particularly fitting photo.

For those in need of some liquid refreshment, a good bite to eat, or just a kind ear on which to unload their problems, these lanterns act as warm beacons in an icy sea. Many of the shops they adorn are little more than hole-in-the-wall bars, with barely enough room at the counter for a dozen customers. But the cozy atmosphere is what continues to draw people in day after day, and year after year.

I actually took this shot without a tripod, using my camera's Night Shot setting. I was surprised as to how well it turned out.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

One more gravestone

Another Japanese Gravestone

I thought I'd add one more gravestone picture before moving on. I took this one from a graveyard in the middle of a field along a semi-busy road. It's still a little weird seeing so many cemetaries around all over the place.

Now for some news...

My computer's been on the fritz for the past few months now. I haven't gotten it fixed because that involved calling NEC's tech suppot centre. My Japanese is just fine, but for some reason I get a little antsy talking over the phone. As such, I'd been putting it off for a long time.

Well, I finally called them the other day, and they even sent a courier to pick up my machine and take a look at it. I'm hoping that the repairs won't be all that expensive and I can have it back in a few weeks. In the meantime, I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Japanese gavestones

A single gravestone in a Japanese cemetary

It's been said that the Japanese are an eclectic people. This is true even in their religious beliefs--they're born Shintoists, marry Christian, and die Buddhist.

Most Japanese follow Buddhist funeral customs. They are very elaborate, from the cremation of the body, to the burial of the ashes, to the tending of the graves.

With family lineage and tradition being so important to the Japanese, most of them have their ashes interned in family graves. Each person's ashes is sealed in a seperate urn and buried under a family headstone.

Re-crop of a Japanese gravestone

Behind the stone, you can see long wooden sticks with names painted in elaborate calligraphy. These are called toba, and they contain the names of each person buried under the family stone.
Tending to the graves is also a family affair. Traditionally, the Japnese visit the graves of their ancestors on two occasions: the anniversary of their death, and during Obon, which is when Japanese Buddhists believe the souls of the dead return to their homes.

When they tend the graves, they first pour water over the graves to purify them, and leave fresh flowers. On the anniversary of the death, they also replace the old toba with a new one. It is also common to leave offerings: sake, tea, cigarettes, whatever the dead person liked in life. This is so that they can come back and enjoy the things they loved while they were still alive. It's also so that they remember that their families have not forgotten about how they lived.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Japanese cemetary

A Japanese cemetary

This is a rather large cemetary that I passed by one time on my bike. It's actually very large compared to a lot of cemetaries I see out here. Some of them are only a dozen or so gravestones crammed together in a spot in the middle of a rice field. More often than not, those ones are simply family plots. But this one seems to be owned by a company of some kind and professionally maintained.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Weird sculpture from Tsukuba Expo '85 site

A weird sculpture at the Tsukuba space centre

Some people say I think too much about things. This may be true. But when I see something like this, I have to wonder about a lot of things.

In a previous post, I showed one of the neglected remenants of the World Expo Tuskuba City held back in 1985. Today, I thought I'd show you one of the more polshed ones.

This sculpture sits right on the fence of what's left of the old Expo site. The upper part actually straddles the fence, not unlike my opinion of this sculpture. On the one hand, I admire artists who are willing to experiment in visual media. On the other, I think it's kind of a strange-looking piece of art.

Still, I have to wonder how much money went into commissioning it.

In his book Dogs and Demons: Tales from the dark side of modern Japan, Alex Kerr paints an ominous picture of Japanese government and bureaucracy. In one chapter, he discusses how the Japanese government relies on pork barrel projects to generate votes.

Basically, he says that many rural areas have few industries. Few industries mean few jobs. Few jobs lead to an unhappy populace. And an unhappy populace is likely to vent its anger toward the government by voting them out.

As such, the government sinks billions of yen a year into construction projects to provide jobs for people. Whether the projects are necessary is beside the point, according to Kerr.

In this case, I don't know if that's an entirely valid argument. After all, the World Expo did bring people from around the world, spending not only time but much-needed money in Tuskuba. It also put Tsukuba on the map as the new hub of technological research and development.

But still, I have to wonder. How much money was spent on building the site, including this sculpture? More importantly, how much was spent on all the consultants and the meetings and the traditional wining-and-dining that typically makes up a large part of the process? And was this sculpture really necessary?

Maybe I do think about these things too much. Maybe I've got a thinking problem. Maybe I need to check out Thinkaholics Anonymous. Who knows?

But I do like this picture. How about you?

Friday, June 09, 2006

May peace prevail on earth

A fitting sign if ever there was one

"1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

"2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. "

From the constitution of Japan, article 9.

This is something that many Japanese people are proud of. I see signs like this posted all over the countryside. Whether the renunciation of war is a good thing or not I don't know. But I do have to admit that the desire for peace is, to say the least, admirable.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Neglect and decay, part 3: No-hunting sign.

"We Japanese love peace."

That's what I heard from someone one time when I asked them why Japanese people don't own guns.

That may be the ultimate reason, to be sure. However, a more pragmatic reason is the fact that Japan has some very strict gun laws. Handguns are illegal here unless you're a police officer or in the military. And rifles and shotguns are also very strictly regulated.

To say nothing of nearly impossible to find.

But an even simpler explanation for why most Japnese people don't own guns is that they have no use for them. Crime rates here are among the lowest in the world. And hunting is something most Japanese don't partake in.

In fact, I don't think I've ever met a single person in Japan who hunts. And even if I did, the only wildlife you'd see around here are tanuki (racoon dogs). What's more, most of the ones you would manage to see are nothing but red and brown splotches on the highway. Victims of urban traffic, not rural hunters.

A shot of the patch of grass with the no-hunting sign

Besides, as you can see here, Japan is pretty urbanized. It's been noted in many books, as well as newspaper and magazine articles, that very little land in Japan is unblemished by concrete and steel to some degree. Even if you wanted to hunt, there's really not that many places to do it.

I took the picture above from a spot along a very busy highway that runs in front of my apartment. By day, it's packed with commuters going to and from work (or off to holiday spots on weekends). By night, giant freight trucks rumble by, loaded so heavily that they shake the very ground like an earthquake.

No-hunting sign in the grass

Move in a little closer on that grassy patch, however, and you can see what has to be, in my opinion, one of the most unnecessary warnings anywhere: A no-hunting sign. Barely visible thanks to the weeds choking it off from view, the rust has rendered part of the writing almost unreadable.

Rusted no-hunting sign

Look closer and you can finally read it clearly. Whoever wrote the English portion of the sign also spelled "Ibaraki" wrong. Even a foreigner like myself wouldn't make that mistake.

This is not the only sign I've seen either. In the six years I've lived here, I've probably come across about a dozen of these. And all of them were in rather urbanized areas where there's nothing to kill.

So seeing these signs only leaves me with one burning question: is there a mad rash of illegal gun-hunting going on that I'm not aware of?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Neglect and decay, part 2: Rusted bus stop sign

Busses are probably the most inconvenient method of transportation in Japan. They're expensive, slow, and cramped. A lot of the ones in my area even have wooden floors. It seems that the bus companies try to cut costs wherever possible just to stay viable. So it's no surprise that replacing or removing old signs isn't exaclty high on their list of priorities.

A rusted bus stop sign

This is a bus stop sign near the police station up the street from my apartment. There's no bus schedule attached to it, leading me to believe that no bus actually stops there. Like the tobacco ad in yesterday's post, I guess it wasn't important enough to actually get rid of.

Note: it was about 11:30 at night over here when I first posted this. I'd just gotten back from the gym and I was completely wiped. I wasn't quite at my best when I wrote it, so I'm redoing it. I hope you like the new version better.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Neglect and decay, part 1: Expo '85 sign

I live in a rather strange place; from here the glitter and grandeur of the big city begins to slowly melt away into endless stretches of rice fields and mountains. Far from the watchful eye of the Tokyo metropolitan government, things in the countryside tend to get missed.

Back in 1985--the year that gave us Back to the Future, New Coke, and Mötley Crüe's Theatre of Pain--the city of Tsukuba hosted the world expo. This actually led to the creation of a whole new city in Ibaraki prefecture, as well as massive amounts of transportation and technlological infrastructure.

A faded sign

Over 20 years later, there are several remenants of the then much-heralded world expo. Unfortunately, some of them are there simply because of neglect. Cabin Cigarettes--apparently one of the sponsors--put this sign up near where I live. The problem is, even almost a quarter of a century later, nobody's bothered to take it down. The once-vibrant colouring has long since faded away, like the memories of the expo have no doubt faded from the minds of the people out in the countryside.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cutsey Cutsey everywhere

Cutsey gas tank

Cute sells in Japan. You see cutsey characters everywhere: on cell phone straps, on tissue packs, even in air conditioner ads.

Cutsey gas tank

For some reason, this gas company agrees. They seemed to think, "why just paint our logo on the tanks when we can have some cutsey fairytale-land character on it instead?

These are actually the same tank, from different angles. I know they're not the best, but getting anything better would have involved climbing barbed wire and crossing train tracks, two things I am emphatically not willing to do for a photograph.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A rickshaw in Asakusa

Rickshaw

Sorry for not posting any pics the last couple of days. Like I've said before, the rain hasn't exactly been conducive to taking good shots. I have a couple of OK ones, but I'm going to have to give them another good look-over before I make them public, if I do at all.

In the meantime, here's something from the archives. These ricksaws, or "jinrikisha" as they're called in Japanese are still quite popular among tourists coming to Tokyo.

They're not exactly the most practical form of transportation, especially given how notoriously snarled up the traffic tends to get. But then again, you don't ride in a horse-drawn carriage because it's practical either, do you?

One other thing: I got a few comments on my last photo that there was too much "noise" and that different settings might have alleviated it. Unfortunately, I haven't got the slightest clue how to go about getting a well-lit shot in a dark place without using a flash. In that shot, I was trying to capture the ambient lighting of the room. If you were using the same camera as I was (a Canon Powershot A540), what would you have done? Please leave me a comment and let me know!