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Showing posts from May, 2012

Planting rice at Koishikawa Kōrakoen

The traditional Japanese garden Koishikawa Kōrakoen near Iidabashi Station has a real rice paddy where school children learn how to plant rice. I was lucky enough to bump into a group that was being shown the ropes by a few old-timers and I could sneak in a few shots. (Mid-May is rice-planting season in the Tokyo area; a bit later in areas further up north.)

The Hero has done rice-planting on his family's farm in Niigata. "How do you survive a full day bent double, in killer heat and evil humidity?" I asked him. "Zen," he answered.

So there you go. It's all very Zen. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.









Out of sight, out of mind

Even as you board that plane that will take you to your new country, you know it will happen: "out of sight, out of mind" will ultimately triumph over "absence makes the heart grow fonder".
It starts slowly, but I suspect it follows a fairly predictable pattern.  Daily becomes weekly becomes monthly becomes annually.Some individuals still respond, but they never initiate contact.You receive emails only on Christmas and on your birthday.Then your birthday is forgotten, and you become part of the mass-mailed Christmas message.Next you get dropped off the Christmas list.Finally you don't even get responses to your emails.
I used to be a good correspondent – writing comes easily to me, and I can hammer out a relatively comprehensible email in a relatively short time – but eventually it dawned on me that if I didn't take the initiative, there would be no communication at all with certain South Africans. "I'm no good at writing," they say. "I'…

A-un, alpha and omega, birth and death

You've probably spotted them at shrines – statues that look a bit like a dog and a bit like a lion – but have you noticed that one always has an open mouth and the other always has a closed mouth?
They're called koma-inu (狛犬Korean dog). This mythical beast probably came from China, travelled via Korea and arrived in Japan in the 7th or 8th century. The Japanese version is a hybrid. Initially the creature on the left was an open-jawed lion of Chinese origin (獅子shishi), whereas the one on the right was a dog with a closed mouth (狛犬koma-inu) that probably originated in Korean mythology. (Koma was the Japanese term for the old Korean kingdom of Koguryo.) The two animals eventually morphed into one, and today the only distinguishing feature is the open versus closed mouth referred to as a-un (阿吽). You can see it clearly in the photos below, which were taken at Hikawa Jinja in Akasaka.


The concept of an open mouth (阿形agyou) and a closed mouth (吽形ungyou) can also be seen in Niō guardia…

A girly question

It's a very unusual topic for this flowers-fish-and-funky-shrines blog, but I might as well exploit my own web space. I have a question for Caucasian women* in Japan. What shampoo do you use?
* Boys are welcome to answer too. As a matter of fact, anybody who's ever had a bad hair day, jump in!
Japanese shampoo is made for Japanese hair. It turns my fine, soft, fly-away hair into a depressed-looking oily mess, so I spend a fortune on Kérastase products that I buy at my hairdresser, or on Stephen Knoll products that you can find in some pharmacies in Tokyo's more chichi areas. I've tried Asience Nature Smooth and Shiseido Tsubaki (the white bottle), and they're OK, but still too heavy.
What's your solution?
PS: My hair isn't only very soft, it's also wavy. I had dead straight hair as a child. When I hit my forties,  it started changing its texture. Now the bottom layers are almost corkscrew curls and the top layers are still straight. If I don't blow-dry…

So what did you see up there? Well, umm ...

Today is Tokyo Sky Tree's opening, but this is what it looked like at 7 am and 4 pm:



I'm afraid people who won tickets in the lottery will have to focus on their shopping. I haven't been there myself, but Sky Tree's shopping complex looks promising. Here's an excellent site with photos. Me? I'll wait until autumn, when the sky is crystal clear, and then I'll go up.

This thing called life

The campus where I can be spotted – I'm that small, mousy, absent-minded oba talking to every tree she passes – is rather beautiful. A great deal of that beauty is thanks to its trees: dignified old-timers that stand guard over buildings, teachers and students. They provide a tranquil environment, but they also demand a lot of work.

About once a month, a garden service comes to the campus to sweep leaves and to tidy up. The gardeners are mentally challenged adults. I admire both the garden service for providing work, and the university for giving them a contract.
Last week, as I was approaching their working area, I saw one gardener with Down syndrome sweeping leaves on a narrow stairway that leads from the campus to the street. He didn't look up, but said "ohayō gozaimasu" to every person who passed. Everybody, from grizzled professors to the nation's bright young things, ignored him.
I don't know what made me do it, but when I passed him and he said hallo, I …

A visit to Niigata's water world (with Angela Merkel)

The earth is covered in water. The residents have water where South Africans have lawns: everywhere. They have water in their front gardens, in their back gardens, between houses, between towns, between mountains. When you look across the valleys, you see acres of water reflecting sky, mountains and houses in an endless mirror image. To me it is beautiful beyond words, beyond pictures, beyond belief.
Niigata. Yasunari Kawabata called it snow country, yukiguni, in his famous book, but in summer it's an endless water world. The whole prefecture is covered in suiden (水田) or water-covered rice paddies. It doesn't matter how often I see it, it still fills me with disbelief. Perhaps you'll understand my awe when I tell you that I come from a "dorsland", a thirsty country. Most of South Africa is semi-arid and drought is an ever-present threat. My mother, for example, was born in the remote northwest of the country, where drinking water either came from rain stored in sp…