Friday, January 27, 2012

Winter in Tokyo... and Ms.Godzilla asks for advice

Tokyo is not a place where I expect it to snow (albeit that my digs are closer to Yokohama).

There is something terribly romantic about practicing the koto (particularly pieces like 'Yuki' or 'Yugao', based on Genji Monogatari) while it is snowing outside. However, having spent my undergraduate years in the cold,snowy MidWest of the US, I am actually no longer a big fan of snow. I take the Italian approach: 'You go to the snow, ski on it, and then leave.'

Even in small amounts it seems to somehow muffle sound, making the world more quiet... of course that could just be caused by the wooly hat and wrapping my scarf all the way up to my ears!

Perhaps it is the weather, but the snow reminded me of how long I have been getting to know Matcha-kun... and the fact that, at some point in the near future, I need to tell him the truth.

You see, I am one of those 'unnatural' women who has no interest in having children. I realized this when I was very young, and shut up about it, since it seemed like every other girl I knew was crazy about children and babies. I have not changed my opinion since then. I do not hate kids in the least, infact I quite like them... provided they are someone else's.

I have been told, usually by men, that I will change my mind, that when the right guy comes along I will somehow magically develop the desire to procreate (I will not even go into how insulting it is to tell someone they do not know their own mind). Besides, the right guy did show up, and I desperately tried to convince myself that children might be a possibility. But there is only so far you can deceive yourself. On the plus side, from the end of that relationship I realized that I need to make this fact abundantly clear.But when?!

If I state ' Hey, nice to meet you and, incidentally, I have no interest whatsoever in bearing your children' on a first date, the results are easily imaginable. Do I wait for him to broach the topic first (eeesh, that sounds cowardly)? Do I bring it up when we start discussing a more serious relationship? Matcha-kun does not appear particularly interested in kids, from what I have observed.... but being a chounan in most countries does carry several expectations, an heir being one of them...

I do not lie. I do not bait-and-switch. But this little fact about myself really does not help at all, especially in this country, where it seems all the guys want to have kids... it would be so much easier if I did too.

One should never say never, as stranger things than a person changing their long-held beliefs happen all the time... but how do I tell him? Any advice for a slightly frightened giant amphibian?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Sunday at Ryogoku

Conversation last Sunday.

T-chan: Okaeri, you're back late.
Me: Un, I went to Ryogoku for the Senshuraku, and then got invited to a hasami-ire party afterwards at one of the stables.
T-chan: Oh, thats nice.
T-chan: Wait, WHAT!?!

To clarify, my boss is a huge sumo fan (pun not intended). She travels all over Japan to see the big matches, and is friends with several rikishi and sumo stable owners. She is too shibui for words.

Last Sunday was Senshuraku, which is the final big match after the major 15 day tournament, where all the famous wrestlers appeared,  with the awards ceremony for the winner at the end. This year the winner was the famous Baruto, who is Estonian. It was amazing to hear the crowd call out for him and praise him, even though he is not Japanese :)


My boss invited two business associates to come along to the match, and we shared one of the little private booths, a stones throw from the ring. As thanks, I made snacks for everyone.

It was amazing to be so close to the action, and despite my initial skepticism (come on, two huge guys throwing themselves at each other? really?) I throughly enjoyed it. The matches go from 8 am to 6pm, with the highest ranking wrestlers at the end. Showing up around 1pm to lounge, drink sake and talk with your friends, while observing some of the new up-and-comers, is all very iki (chic)... elegant, and somehow belonging to a different time.

It was fascinating to see that about half of the ozeki (high ranking wrestlers) are from other countries. Mongolians are de riguer, but there was also a series of Eastern Europeans, and a very muscular, trim Czech rikishi. I was really taken by the cool, colourful advertisement banners, which became more and more frequent as the final match approached.

Also, these guys are tall! Many are around 1.90m... perhaps I should start looking around for retired sumo dudes... How do I know they are that tall? Oh well, you know, by hanging out at a retirement party for a wrestler at one of my boss's favorite stables... and participating in the hasami-ire, where they have their top-knot cut, to show they are no longer an active wrestler. This was all very surreal. And delicious, as we got to eat chanko nabe prepared and served by some of the wrestlers. So, so good!

If you ever have the chance to see sumo up close, I thoroughly recommend it. It is a fascinating world, as well as a great excuse to have a couple of glasses of good sake in the early afternoon!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Office- Things my clients write

There are several reasons I cannot go into detail about my job here (most prominently that my contract forbids me to do so), but occasionally there are some hilarious, non-illegal things I can share.

One of the doubtful pleasures of my job is reading through and correcting essays and CVs. These are usually written by highly intelligent people who, unfortunately, often still are not at home with the English language. Below are a few recent gems:

* 'I was impressed by my team leader's leadership and learned the virility of my leadership' (oh my...)

* 'I would assume that it is because he was educated in the US that he thinks rationally and wastes no time' (uhm, I pretty sure everyone I know from college, including myself, minored in Procrastination)

* 'I learned the importance of the effort, the concentration, the fellow, the sincerity, and also patience' (which fellow?)

* 'Given this challenging spirit that he owns' (....poltergeist?)

* 'I want to be a global business leader' (x1000) (everyone writes this, but what does this mean?!)

Some could perhaps accuse me of being mean-spirited for posting these. However, I well know that my own mistakes in Japanese have literally brought my sempai to tears with laughter. Plus, slogging through those things day in and day out should allow for a bit of slack!

And I actually do like most of my clients, or people I meet at work-related events. Some have even been kind enough to express their appreciation in tangible form... such as huge boxes of sembei and the glorious confections which have been tempting me and my boss for the past few days.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sneaky Saturdays and Sundays

Peak season at work= slightly frazzled Miss Godzilla.

I made a promise to myself that I would not let work take over my life and, for the most part, I have kept it... except this weekend, when I had to work on Sunday.

Nonetheless, I've made sure to carve out time for a social life, sports (fencing is the only reason I would get up before 7am on a Saturday) and of course, Matcha-kun. Oh yes, Matcha-kun is still very much alive and well, and as gentlemanly as always (although he has chilled out considerably, besides the odd gift of really amazing chocolate... I'm afraid even I can't argue with chocolate).

We went to see the new Genji Monogatari movie a week or so ago. It is definitely a complicated interpretation, mixing the tale itself and Murasaki Shichibu's life, in a gloriously colorful bit of Heian magical realism. I am actually rather well informed about Genji's various flings, as I am currently studying a collection of koto pieces based on them, and liked how they treated the stories in the movie. However, one thing was extremely distracting... the bloody hats, that they never took off, even to sleep (or sleep around)! Eventually we both ended up giggling at each new awkward hat moment.

With ninja-like sneakiness, he somehow managed to not let me pay for anything (again...), from tickets to dinner to accommodation, even purikura! Men should not be treated like wallets (a thought which has yet to make much headway in this country), so I had to resort to extreme tactics.

This time around, I made reservations at a little Israeli restaurant in Hiroo/ Ebisu, and wandered over through the intriguing side streets  to pay ahead of time, so that the wonderfully friendly and cooperative owner would just have to give me the change (very high sneak-level here).

For those seeking proper falafel, hummus and other such goodness, the quest ends here. The falafel at Ta-im are dreamy, crunchy on the outside but soft and full of flavour on the inside, without being floury. It is a tiny place, where you sit at the counter and chat with the owner as he doles out glorious babaganoush and shakshuka, occasionally passing out free pickled hot peppers. These are tastes of home for me, as my mother makes Middle Eastern food at least once a week, and was thrilled that Matcha-kun (who had never had it before) really liked it as well. Since it is a very pleasant ten minute walk from my station, I shall be back!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The call of Showa

In Japanese years, I was born in Showa 62, two years before the start of the Heisei era.

Perhaps this explains my fascination with early Showa buildings, remnants of a nostalgic history I have no claim to. While a great deal of Japan's large cities are concrete and glass, here and there a building survives, sometimes in the most unlikely of places, like Ginza or Azabu Juban. Unsurprisingly Osaka, a city which holds onto its past and culture with great pride, is a treasure trove of these wonderful, slightly derelict structures.

However, my interest also extends to the Meiji era, a period of huge change and transition in the country. The mixing of traditional culture and western influences, which come across clearly in Tanizaki and Natsume Souseki novels, a cultural maelstrom I got to learn more about when I was doing research in Kobe, courtesy of a Fulbright fellowship. I devour books, movies and dorama that give a glimpse of the past.Watching 'Norwegian Wood', I was not so much taken by the story (which, as usual for Murakami, is routinely tragic) as by the background, the clothes, the way of speaking, all the carefully recreated details of Japan in the 70s.

Perhaps I am just curious about a Japan without cellphones (hypocritical, as I write this from my smartphone, on the looong train home from a livehouse in Kokubunji), with more traditional ideas of beauty and a growing economy (post-Bubble era being exempted). The call of the past, even when it is not your own past, is strong.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hello 2012

Amongst the usual reasons for enjoying holidays, I have a rather odd reason for loving New Years in Japan: it is the only time of year where the whole country is suddenly inundated with traditional music. Since I play and adore hogaku, it is a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by it.

Besides the shopping areas, where the fight for the best fukubukuro rages on, the rest of the city is quiet, the trains empty. And in the distance you can hear the drums and flute of a matsuri bayashi ensemble, a cheerful sound with strong Chinese rhythms and tones.

While slowly boiling out all the extra calories at the local sento (I hope), Miyagi's famous piece for koto and flute, Haru no Umi, trickles like silver through the steamy air, followed by a series of other beautiful koto arrangements.

New Years was a nice, low-key house party followed by hatsumode at our local shrine, hidden on the opposite hill. I tried my hand at making some osechi (on the left), which actually came out quite well! Wave-chan's mother also made me vegetarian osechi (the much more impressive set on the right).

 The atmosphere at the shrine was convivial, aided by the free cups of moonshiney sake, everyone squealing in delight or dismay at the fortunes in their omikuji (apparently in my case failure will come from an unexpected quarter, my chances of snagging a husband are very high, and if any health issues arise I should consult with the kami... good to know?).

Every year that I have been in Japan I have bought one fukubukuro of accessories (since the likelihood of clothes fitting properly is so very, very remote), and this year was no exception. After that expedition, I got out at Gakugeidaigaku on a whim, to walk the quiet streets and preview interesting places... of course, I will have to go back when they are open!