Friday, February 24, 2006

Sorry, I Just Have to Get This Off My Chest

I'm looking at my calender, and I swear to you it says 2006. So, that would be the 21st century, right?


Then why are we still using cassette tapes for classes at ECC!?

Ah ... that felt better.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Municipal Governments: The Same In Any Language

So a few weeks ago, the omnipresent municipal construction workers descend on the footbridge near my apartment to commence a new paint job. The paint started going up last week: an attractive shade of burgundy, quite fetching I thought, neither dull nor flashy. It brightened up the whole street.

Little did I know, that was just the base coat. The real paint went up today: a stunningly imaginative gun-metal grey. What is it about governments and boring?

And people wonder why I cheer on taggers.

Monday, February 20, 2006


So last Saturday - the 11th of February to be exact - was Japan's National Foundation Day. It's essentially analogous to Independance Day (for my American readers) or Dominion Day (officially, 'Canada Day', but god what a silly name ... I hear the same party that unilaterally ditched 'Dominion Day' back in the 70s now wants to replace Victoria Day with 'Heritage Day', 'cause, y'know, nothing says 'Heritage' like systematic erasure of same. Sorry, rant done.)

National Foundation Day (or kenkoku kinen no hi) originally commemorated the crowning of the (probably fictional) Emperor Jimmu as Japan's first Emperor, in 660 BC. The holiday dates to the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, during which period it was known as Kigensetsu (紀元節), or Empire Day. The holiday was abolished after WWII, and reinstated in 1966, shorn of Imperial baggage and repackaged in the warm fuzzies of contemporary politics (hmm ... seeing a parellel here between Japan and Canada, now that I think about it....)

Anyhow, one thing I noticed was that, if I hadn't known about the holiday in advance, well, I never would have noticed it. I saw no Japanese flags on display; no celebrants waxing enthusiastic over their country's birthday; in fact, no overt sign of celebration at all.

This is a stark contrast to what I'm used to. In North America, the first week of July cannot pass without fireworks, flag-waving, and drunken hordes with their respective country's flags painted on their faces or plastered on T-shirts descending on city centers. Where I'm from, your country's birthday is a Big Deal. Not so, here.

I can think of two reasons for this:

1. Lingering hangover from the malignant nationalism of the first half of the 20th century.
2. The Japanese people don't feel they need a flag and a nation-state to bind them as a people. You could rip out all the political wiring, replacing it with something better, worse, or simply different, and Japan would still be, well, Japan. So, no sense in getting all excited over a bit of 19th century propaganda.

What I usually here from outsiders is number 1; number 2 is something I've heard from students, so I tend to give it a bit more credence.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Stuff and Things

Just got of the phone with my family, and they all pestered me about the blog, complaining that I hadn't updated since 2月6日. Who knew people kept track of these things? Anyhow, I wish I had some deeply interesting reason for the long silence, but, really, I'm just lazy.

So, as many of you know and no doubt privately lamented, Valentine's Day was last week. This is one of the holidays Japan has imported from the West (by which I mean, the U.S. ... the other being Christmas.) But (as with all imported holidays) they Japanese have made some improvements. Essentially, they've split it in two, into 'Valentine's Day', and 'White Day'. On Valentine's Day, the girl gives the guy a present, and on white day the guy repays, with interest. I say this is an improvement because it takes a lot of the uncertainty out of 'how much should I spend on a gift', for both parties.

Anyhow, I got a very nice bathrobe (the largest size available is a little on the small side, but still quite comfortable) which is nice, as I forgot my bathrobe at home. Now, after work, I can offend my room-mates with my slothful appearance! Ahhh, feels almost like I'm back in university....

The previous weekend, I went out to see a movie, Munich. It was my girlfriend's idea (I don't often see movies on my own); we were able to go largely because Saturday was a national holiday (on which more later.) I'll hold off on my usual strident politics, as I don't feel this blog, given it's focus, is the place for my opinions on the latest existential threat to the West, and say only that those who protested the movie, on either side of the culture war, doth protest too much. Spielberg did a good job of portraying the conflict, even if unwittingly.

After the movie, we went out for dinner. I had squid-ink risotto (ie, the sauce was made from squid ink.) It was ... interesting. Notice, I didn't say 'tasty'. Certainly not something I'd have again, but at least I can say I'm tried it.

Bored now. More later ;-)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What a Fine Day

I woke up after four hours sleep (I blame you, Neal Stephenson!) The weather was terrible. It rained, heavily, until some point in the evening. And there was an earthquake (though I didn't feel it for some reason; however, it did cause a delay in the trains.)

But, thanks to the rain, two students cancelled today, which left me with about two and a half hours of sweet nothing right in the middle of the day as only one student was signed up for those two classes. I put the time to good use, reading a fascinating book, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, which consists of an investigation of the universal human phenomenon of religion from the viewpoint of cognitive science.

Since today is Wednesday, the earliest of my early shifts, I was finished at 4:00. It was then down to the Kichijoji Excelsior (Excelsior is Japan's answer to Starbucks), to get some writing done while I waited for my language exchange partner. This went as usual: an hour's conversation in English, followed by an hour's instruction in Japanese out of a textbook (it goes without saying that her English ability is far beyond my Japanese ability.)

There was even a nice surprise at the end: another woman in the coffee shop had overheard us, sussed out that I was maybe an English teacher, and approached me about assisting her with a press release and a presentation she had to give to a visiting corporate team from the States. She's with the marketing division of an IT company, I think. At any rate, I gave her my e-mail address and either she calls or she doesn't.

All in all, a pretty sweet day.