Sunday, April 30, 2006

Koto and Shakuhachi music

We went to a free performance of traditional music today that was near Nagoy Castle, there were various combinations of koto, shamisen, and a shakuhachi playing on a little open air stage in the park to a crowd of probably at least a hundred people. It was really nice--the weather was perfect and the musicians were incredibly good.

Here's a clear shot of the 'koto'--they are plucked with one hand and the other hand can press down on the strings, sort of a cross between a mountain dulcimer and a harp. These were usually played several in unison, with one (usually the lady in front) taking a lead.
Here's a shot of the 'shakuhachi' player. The shakuhachi is the traditional bamboo flute. It's played by blowing just over one edge of the open top of the tube. All other flutes are played by directing the air across a hole in the side of the tube. Even pan-pipes are played by blowing across the top of the tube opening. As far as I know, only the shakuhachi is played by blowing down onto only one side of the tube. They're really hard to play and take incredible breath control. The guy playing in the picture is really young to be as good as he was (which was very good!). They said he made his public debut when he was 14, and was in his twenties now.
These two women are playing 'shamisen'. They are sort of like three-stringed fretless banjos, but played with things that look like ice-scrapers. They can have a looser, more slidy sound than the koto.
You can see the Castle in this shot. The stage was just across the moat from the back of the castle.
Here's a shot from farther back where you can see the Castle and the hanging wisteria (called fuji) which were just blooming. The concert was from 1:00 to 2:00 so it was pretty hot sitting in the full sun, but under the arbor it was nice and cool and the wisteria smelled really good.
Another shamisen player. Here is a link to an Amazon CD listing where (if you scroll down a little) you can listen to samples of music like what they were playing.
I couldn't resist this 'funny English' shot of a bike parked at the concert. The name of the bike is 'potato'...
It says "The record breaker, leading the play, star of the game, knows training, strength and discipline. Everyone's Hero! Potato"--don't ask me why.

JUSCO Taiyaki

Here's a picture of 'JUSCO'--the big, cheap department store near campus where we do alot of our shopping. If you haven't seen the movie "Kamikaze Girls"--(Shimotsuma Monogatari), it is very funny and JUSCO has a part in it.
Here's a little girl watching the Taiyaki being made. These are the same fish-shaped cakes I was talking about at the Nitaiji temple fair--there is a booth at JUSCO where they make them, too.
The fish shape molds that they fill with batter and sweet-bean paste.
On display...
Piping hot and ready to eat!

Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle was built in 1612 by Shogun Tokuga Ieyasu (if you saw the movie 'Shogun' from the 1980's--that was him, played by Mifune). It was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt in 1959. Click here for more info. It is really, really huge! I'm afraid these pictures don't really capture the scale of it. The moat above goes all the way around the castle, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile on a side--those are full grown trees along the top of the wall, maybe 30-50 feet tall.
Here's the view of the cast from the rear, where it is closest to the outer moat, which is a river on this side.
Here's a shot of me inside the inner walls but still a couple hundred yards away.
That's Caitlin standing in front of the castle proper. On the very top you can just see one of the two gold dophin sculptures which are big symbols of Nagoya.
Here's a panorama shot of one of the inner corner towers--this is one of the original structures that survived the war.
Here's a shot of the Nagoya skyline from the top floor observation deck of the castle.
Here's me standing on top of one of the walls pictured in the first picture of the moat. I'm very pleased to be holding a reproduction of an "Ichi-ryo"--one gold coin like the ones used in the Shogun's time. If you've seen any 'Zatoichi" films, you might know that ichi-ryo was about the going rate for a cheap body-guard or hit-man, but not for Zatoichi, he got at least 5-ryo.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fleamarket at Nittai-ji

Since Caitlin was sick in bed yesterday, I went to a big flea-market sort of thing that’s held once a month at one of the biggest temples in the city called Nittaiji. It was built in 1904 when the king of Thailand donated to Japan some of the ashes of the original Buddha (reportedly including the thumb bone—which is enshrined in the big pagoda above). So that’s why it’s Nittaiji—NI for Nippon (Japan), TAI for Thailand, & JI for temple. This shot is from standing in the big front gate looking in towards the main hall and pagoda.
There were hundreds of booths and droves of people (mostly elderly) despite the blustery spring weather. It was really cool seeing the whole market scene laid out as it probably was 50 or even 250 years ago. There was every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable, pickles and sweets, clothes for old ladies, yarn, garden tools, caps, watches, toys—everything, you name it. I got two of these things which are waffles shaped like leaping fish that are stuffed with sweet red beans, toasted in front of your eyes and served up piping hot (forgot to get a picture as I was too busy eating them)—Yum!
We put this picture into sepia tone to give it that old-timey feel.
This is just inside the main gate looking back at it. If you look closely in the right-hand side of the gate opening, you’ll see a monk silhouetted in his big umbrella hat (kasa) collecting alms. The woman in the foreground is wearing a little white doctor’s type mask that you see people wearing a lot here—it’s to protect against germs or allergies or both, I think.
Here’s a shot of the entrance of the street that leads to Nittaiji on fair day. It’s about a quarter of a mile lined with booths the whole way, plus almost that many booths again inside the temple grounds! I liked this picture because on the right you can see the sign for the Starbucks on the corner. For more info on the Nittai-ji temple fair click here.

In the News

Well, had a rough night last night. Caitlin woke up at 2:00 am with terrible stomach pains and was then vomiting. After 2 hours of intense pain (worse than her throat aches even) we went to the ER with the gallant translating help of resident tutor Akiko-san who lives on our floor. By 6:00 we had her back in bed, where she is now—without pain and cheerfully recovering. We can only guess it was some sort of food poisoning or other though she hadn’t eaten anything suspicious all day. Amazingly, however, the whole ER trip with anti-nausea medicine came to about $84 and we were reimbursed almost $60 of that by the health insurance! At least we know how to get to the hospital now, let’s just hope it doesn’t happen again.

Also in the news, we just got our Alien Resident Cards! This means we are official gaijin (foreigners). It also means I can go to the Immigration Authority on Monday and apply for my work permit. There are a slew of private language schools in the area I can apply at in addition to offering private tutoring and editorial services.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


There is a really amazing little temple called Toganji that is about a 10 minute walk from campus. It is about 500 years old and is this quite, peaceful little garden sanctuary tucked right into this dense urban environment. But first a few shots along the walk there... This is just a regular house in traditional Japanese style that's in the neighborhood--I thought it was neat contrasted against the newer apartment building.
This is a giant monkey climbing on a building a few blocks up from Toganji--I thought Dad especially would appretiate this one!
This is basically a dollar-store that is directly across the street from the gate to Toganji. It's not just convenient--it's hyper-convenient! I'm not sure why this photo came out a wierd color, we're still figuring out our camera.
This is looking back out the main gate down the path towards the street, which already seems miles away. That's Caitlin.
This is one of the inner gates--the stone on the right is about 10 feet tall.
After you go through the inner gate (above) you get a glimpse of this daibutsu (giant Buddha) through the trees. It was quite startling the first time when you didn't know it was going to be there. It's down the hill from here and stands about 15 meters tall!
Standing at the base of the Toganji daibutsu. It is actually quite new, being completed in 1988.
These are some of the gravestones (sort of family memorial plots) that are behind the temple area.
In this shot you can see the tools neatly arranged that people use to clean their family gravestone areas. We've taken walks here in the evenings a few times and you always see at least one or two people here cleaning their family graves.
Here's an old pruned pine tree at Toganji. For a really complete description and history of Toganji with tons more pictures click here. It is part of a web page prepared by Kikuko-san--one of the YWCA ladies who hosted a welcome tea for us at the Nagoya YWCA and who also helped Caitlin fill out her alien registration paperwork when she first got here. Click the "Top" button at the very bottom of her web-page to see the incredible depth and breadth of info on Nagoya that she has put together to help international students like us! She is just one of the many people who have been really great and helped us out just to be nice and be helping some one. For instance, the local Lion's Club donated the textbooks for my "Family of International Students Japanese Language Class." I thought that was neat because the Lion's Club in Willard, Missouri helped sponsor my little league baseball!

Morning Time

Our early morning sitting spot with the light coming in. This is where we have our breakfast and tea every morning.
Here's miz Genevra blowing on a bite of rice porridge flavored with honey sweetened miso and ground sesame seed. Our friendly little electric rice cooker has cooked it up just right every time.

Here's a self portrait of me pouring out our morning sencha (green tea). (There are three cups because thats how much the pot holds and you have to pour it off all at once--I usually get the two coz Caitlin has to wait for hers to cool down.)
Our intrepid Monbukogakusho Government Scholar setting forth to face yet another day of intensive Japanese language classes--looking rather graduate-studently with her stylish overcoat and clutching her standard issue bookbag/briefcase. Gambate ne! [work hard!]

Room C401

Here is the view as you walk up the hill towards the International Residence from the Nagoya University campus--you have to watch out here as bikes whiz by pretty fast on this narrow walkway. This is the view out our front door (on the 4th floor)--taken in the first few days after we got here when the cherry trees were in full bloom. All those blossoms have already fallen now. The small dome with a cross on it that you see just next to the big apartment building on the left is Nanzan University, where Caitlin will be going in the fall.
Here is a shot of our little kitchen with it's two burner gas stove and fully automatic clothes washer--the front door is left of the washer. The clothes washer sits in its own little floor sink with drain (lower left corner). When the water drains, it fills up the floor sink almost to overflowing as it slowly goes down that drain. The cabinet with knobs on it that the stove sets on is the gas water heater--you have to turn on the flame whenever you want hot water (its works most of the time) and remember to turn it off when your done. The floor and cabinets are about three shades lighter than they were when we moved in, thanks to scrubbing with magic white eraser sponges.
Looking from the front door through the apartment to the balconey.

Looking back into the kitchen from the main room. The little table is really cool--it slides into the cupboard so you can pull it out and fit in two more chairs. There is a vinyl curtain thing that can close off the kitchen there (on the left). Desk, bookshelves and balconey. The coat hanging up is covering a big red "emergency button" that calls the office staff in case there's an earthquake or something.

Looking out the balconey to the wooded area behind. You can see the spiral staircase on the end of the building and also our little clothesline. Standing on the balconey looking down the left side of the building.

Looking back in from the balconey at the hide-a-bed and the wardrobe/closets. The whole bed actually flips up and the bottom is wood panelling just like the closets. It really opens up the floor space, but we usually just leave it down. The comforter was one of our first big purchases. We actually got too small of a size first and had to go back and exchange it--which was a real test of our Japanese language skills. Standing in the kitchen you can see the bed, our little fridge, the rice cooker and the bathroom.

Here's a shot from standing up on the edge of the tub so you can see how the sink and the bath share the same faucet. The shower nozel is on the black hose. There is an open drain in the middle of the floor that the sink and tub drain into--so you have to watch where you stand. The tub is small but deep so you can easily hunker down and soak your whole body--the bath is probably my favorite feature of the whole place!