Month: April 2009


I was walking down a narrow street of small shops in an upbeat mood. Rain was just starting to fall, and I noticed a three year old boy with his palms outstretched and younger sister barely standing next to him. “It’s raining, no?” I asked him in Japanese. Excited and wide-eyed, he blurted out to his shop-keeper father, “English?” His father seemed as amused as me by the young boy’s false sense of language comprehension.

An attractive architect, who went to school and worked in the US,  recently told me that his wife, after a few drinks, thinks that she understands dinner conversation English, when in reality she is listening to his simultaneous translation.

I see this earnest delusion in my own efforts to understand spoken Japanese. Maybe language learning starts with the will to understand. Even though full comprehension takes much longer.

Oh, no, piggies!

Nuns wear masks for swine flu

During avian flu, I felt detached because of my distaste for poultry. Swine flu is a direct hit to my stomach. It seems the masks have turned from white to blue. This photo of Mexican nuns shows that even Jesus-loving ladies are terrified. Mi dios! I will sublimate my fear with tonkastsu, tonkotsu ramen, hot dogs, sausage and bacon!

Ginza manias

Baum kuchen in Ginza

Looking like pork on a spit, this is actually one of Tokyo’s latest crazes, a “baum kuchen.” Usually people form long lines to buy these German cakes in Ginza, but today’s rain chased away the crowds.

Another Ginza mania I discovered in the underground passageways connecting three Ginza subway stations. The camera phone crowds have gathered together to capture the Disney QR codes. It’s like a religious group activity, no?

Disney QR Ginza mania

“What’s so bad about being naked?”

Kusanagi, "What's so bad about being naked"

My least favorite SMAP member Kusanagi Tsuyoshi was arrested for being drunk and naked last night at 3 am in Hinokicho Park near posh Tokyo Midtown. He reportedly told the police, “What’s so bad about being naked?”

The story created a breaking news flash on Japanese TV, and has already reached the foreign press including the Singapore Straits Times, Bloomberg, AP and the San Francisco Chronicle. The Straits Times describes SMAP as “an ageing boy band.”

Of course there will be apologies, and corporate marketing and even governmental policy implications. Per Bloomberg:

Japan’s government may halt advertisements promoting digital TV after the incident, as the campaign features Kusanagi, said Hideo Harada, an official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Toyota Motor Corp. also will halt commercials featuring the performer. “We’ll stop all advertisements in which Kusanagi appears as of today,” said Hideaki Homma, a spokesman at Toyota.

I always thought he was the ugly one of the five guys, covering up his receding hair line with goofy bangs. Maybe his drunken defense of public nudity will make me re-consider his talents.

Fundoshi v Fujoshi

Fujoshi, illustration

Another simple mistake in Japanese. Inquiring about the cultural activities of takenoko gathering, I innocently asked my in-laws, “Will there be any fujoshi?” Ooops. What I meant to ask was about fundoshi.

Above, a fujoshi, an anime and manga-addicted girl who enjoys boy-on-boy romance and sex stories known as BL (boys love). Below, fundoshi, a ritual loin cloth worn by men for some religious holidays.


Finally, one more fujoshi image, courtesy of recent commenter and blogger, imbeleth.

Fan girl ramblings blog

Giant takenoko

Giant takenoko

Now is the season for takenoko (竹の子), literally “the child of bamboo.” These giant bamboo sprouts are dug out in spring, and make a seasonal delicacy. I was sad that a cold prevented me from going to our friend’s takenoko-digging event outside Tokyo. Fresh takenoko is delicious!

Here’s the inside of this big baby:

Giant takenoko

Parodies of “Gathering Storm” Anti-Marriage ads

A “Gathering Storm” has created a flood of parody ads discussing the apocalyptic potential of gay marriage. These two are some of my favorites. Have you seen any good ones?

There’s also Rachel Maddow’s commentary on the National Organization for Marriage’s “2M4M” campaign.

And Steven Colbert’s news report and parody:

And here’s a link to the original scare video with paid actors talking about their fear:

My first bizen pottery

Four bizen vases

Over the Golden Week holiday (May 1 to May 5), I am going with the ceramics senseis and some students to a small town in Shizuoka to make bizen pottery in a wood-fired kiln that will be heated for five days. We will take turns staying up all night to keep the fire lit.

Bizen pottery is very special. It is the oldest form of Japanese pottery, and can only be done in special kilns. Bizen uses no glaze, but instead organic materials like rice straw and pine ash placed on the ceramics produce red and brown markings and spots. The effects are often unpredictable, and they are called “yohen” or kiln accidents.

Here’s two examples of fine bizen: Okayama website, the town that is its original home. And Sachiko Torok’s work, an artist in Bizen.

My first pieces include the four vases above, modeled on the one on the right. My line is still not very good, but I like the trick of turning a round shape into a twisted five-sided shape. I also made four rectangle plates, ten tiny bowls, and five vases that include ceramic lattices for arranging flowers. Two of the lattices are in the shape of steep inverted bowls that sit on top of shallow bowls; three are flat lattices that sit on cylinders and an octagon.

I am curious how they’ll turn out in the oven. We are leaving two weeks from today, and I may make a few more pieces before we go. I’ll post more pictures from the trip and the finished results.

Apparently the bizen town we are going to is super small, and I was warned that there would be no internet. Fortunately one of the students has a nation-wide mobile internet provider for his laptop. I also confirmed with the senseis that while the town is small, they are well stocked with conbinis (convenience stores).