Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: November 2012

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tōdai ginkgo update: OK, this is it!

Gentle reader, if you're in the vicinity of Bunkyō, would you be so kind as to allow me to suggest that you should perchance consider the possibility of a visit to a certain institution of higher education situated on Hongō-dori this coming weekend?

Heh. Howzat for English sonkeigo? (Sonkeigo is respectful language.)

This is what the ginkgos at the University of Tokyo looked like this morning. They will remain beyond breathtaking for a few more days, and Saturday promises to be a beautiful sunny day, hence my recommendation. (Alternatively, to express the same idea in Afrikaans: Roer jou gat! Move your butt!)

The most beautiful tree in all the world. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Looking towards Yasuda Auditorium from the main gate

I owe Cecilia an apology. I told her with great confidence that campus maintenance stops sweeping up the leaves at some stage, so that the paths are covered in a thick yellow carpet. So what happened this morning? They swept up all the leaves. Groan. 

Cecilia, I wasn't lying. This photo was taken at 10-ish.

Then the sweeping started ...

... and continued ...

... and two hours later it looked like this. I was right about the brooms, though, wasn't I?

The next photo is for Minoru-sensei. I recently wrote a post about Tokyo Station, which was designed by Tatsuno Kingo. Minoru-sensei told me that Tatsuno was a student of Josiah Conder. The latter, who designed (amongst others) the mansion at Kyu-Furukawa Teien, was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1915 by the Tokyo Imperial University, which eventually became Tokyo University. Conder's statue stands on the university's Hongō campus, near the most magnificent tree in all the world.

Josiah Conder's statue, with the giant ginkgo in the background


That's the giant ginkgo in the background.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Tokyo Station: a gracious old lady regains her youth

I've decided to be otherwise. I don't know if that expression is used in other English-speaking countries as well, but in South Africa (or perhaps just in my family?) it means contrary, perverse, obstinate.

Currently there's a plethora of posts waxing lyrical about autumn, life's transience and the beauty of nature; so I've put my thousands of autumn photos on hold and written a post about Tokyo Station instead. Actually it's just a cop-out. I've done so many pixpeditions that I barely know which photo to publish first, and that's just the ginkgos. I haven't started hunting maples yet.


I walked from Ueno Park to Hibiya Park the other day and and passed Tokyo Station for the first time since it opened after its renovation. Oh my giddy aunt! It's breathtaking!

Tokyo Station seen from the promenade leading to the Emperor's Palace.
Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Bonus autumn photo. If you look carefully, you'll see the station in the background.

I miss Marunouchi. I used to live in Kanda and work in Yūrakuchō, and I regularly walked home past Maruzen Books in the Oazo Building in Marunouchi. (That's a blatant lie. I never walked past, I always walked in.) Often I'd walk to Tokyo Station and get off just one stop further, simply because I love that place. Surprisingly enough, given the fact that it reduced me to tears the first time I entered it.

A long time ago, I wrote this description of the shinkansen ride from Shin-Yokohama to Tokyo:

The train departs as smoothly as it arrives: one minute you're suspended in silence, the next minute you're slicing the night to shreds. 
The shinkansen runs on elevated tracks to Tokyo. "Elevated" doesn't refer to a few meters: the tracks are high enough to pass over ten-story buildings. That means you float above an urban landscape that disappears over the horizon in four directions, in an endless expanse of sparkling lights. Buildings flash by and offer glimpses into windows and lives: salarymen in their offices at 10 pm, a futon in front of a flickering TV set, washing left in the rain on a balcony. You peer into narrow alleys where even the neon cannot penetrate; look down, godlike, onto gravestones huddling in tiny cemeteries under curving temple roofs; cross wide black rivers and wider black highways; sweep like a phantom through people, thoughts, dreams and disappointments. 
When you reach Shinagawa, the wall starts: a solid glass-and-steel wall that surges thirty, forty, fifty stories high. Now you're not floating above – these behemoths overpower even the mighty shinkansen – but streaking past a non-stop blur of energy, activity, reflections, neon, glitter, advertising, activity, buy! sell! do! live! love! work! go! go! go! 
Stations flash past, a solitary man smoking at the edge of a platform, slower trains packed to capacity, neon flashing in pools of water, raindrops falling into a river of headlights, the pachinko parlours of Shinbashi, the glitter of Ginza's shopping district. When you reach Marunouchi, you're surrounded by towers of light that reach so high you cannot glimpse their summits through the shinkansen's windows.
Then, in the middle of this glittering future world, there she is. The young upstarts step back in their slinky silver gowns and stilettos to make room for the Dowager Duchess. That's what I secretly call the Tokyo Station building, which opened in 1914 and stands to this day. She's an anachronism: a battered, slightly worn-down but still gracious old lady holding her own amidst a crowd of slim, sequinned, dressed-to-kill young vamps. She looks a bit awkward, as though she doesn't belong, but she keeps her poise. She's made of warm red brick, not cold steel, and she provides unexpected warmth in the cold heart of Tokyo. 
This, Tokyo Station, is where all shinkansen hiss to a stop. As I walk through the ticket gates, two guards call out arigato gozaimashita, "thank you for travelling with us". If it is really late at night and the station is quieter with less traffic, they bow. I slip through the crowds and catch the Yamanote Line on Platform 4. Mamonaku, yonban sen ni densha ga mairimasu. Abunai desu kara, kiiroi sen no uchigawa e, o-sagari kudasai. "Next, a train will arrive on Platform 4. Please be aware of the danger and stand behind the yellow line." The Yamanote Line, crowded beyond capacity, runs in a loop around central Tokyo. It is a human conveyor belt that runs every two minutes (every two minutes!) to feed the rapacious appetite of this economic powerhouse.
It's a small thing, this twenty-minute trip from Shin-Yokohama to central Tokyo, but to me – raised on the vast, empty plains of Africa – it remains a breathtaking experience. It doesn't matter how many times I do it, I'll never lose my sense of awe as I travel through this living, breathing, impossibly complex creature called Tokyo.

If you're wondering what I was doing on the shinkansen, I also used to work in Shin-Yokohama, a long time ago, and I often travelled home on the shinkansen. It's expensive. So? If you're a train freak, which I am, that's irrelevant.

Six years ago I wrote that Tokyo Station looked battered and worn-down. No longer. Now that she's been renovated, she's gorgeous enough to overshadow the flashy young things around her. I keep telling you: older women are better! Here's a short description from
For the first time in more than 60 years, the station has been restored to the way it looked when it was originally built nearly a century ago, in 1914. Long cherished as a symbol of the city, the grand station was designed by Tatsuno Kingo, revered as the father of modern Japanese architecture. The recent reconstruction work restored two domes and a portion of the main building’s third floor that were destroyed during an air raid in May 1945. For the first time in nearly seventy years, the station once again looks the way its architect intended. The reconstruction project began in 2007 and lasted five years, at a cost of some ¥50 billion. Work was also carried out to increase the available floor space. At 43,000 square meters, the reopened station is now 2.2 times larger than it used to be.
I only admired her from afar, because the crowds scared me off. I tried to take photos from the promenade that leads to the Emperor's Palace, but even there it was so busy that I couldn't get decent photos. "Oh sod this for a lark," I thought.

Isn't that a delightfully rude, nonsensical, immensely satisfying exclamation? It's very British. Does it require explanation? It's an expression of exasperation that shows you're extremely annoyed or bored with an activity, and refuse to do it because it needs too much effort.

Americans would say screw it, stuff it or fuck it. (Yes, dear hearts, I'm using four-letter words. I'm a linguist. It's all scientific. Grin. Anglo-Saxons aren't exactly inhibited in their vocabulary, and that includes us women.) "Sod this for a lark" is Cockney in origin, probably from the war years, and it has many variations: blow (or sod or screw) this for a game of soldiers and blow (or sod or screw) this for a lark. It's rude, but in British parlance only mildly so, in the same category as bloody and bugger.

The original dome was destroyed by American air raids.

Right, after that linguistic interlude, shall we return to the matter in hand? (Americans would say matter at hand. Hmph.)

"Oh sod this for a lark," I thought, as crowds of tourists engulfed me. "There's got to be a better way." So I did my South African Recce and San tracking thing, ogled the lay of the land and noticed an observation spot: the seventh-floor patio of the Shin-Marunouchi Building. That's where I took most of my photos.

Photo taken from the seventh floor of the Shin-Marunouchi Building

I didn't take interior shots. If you're interested, I suggest these posts written by Dru and Merry Witch.

I end with a video of the stunning light-and-sound show that marked the station's official reopening.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Sky Tree goes green for Christmas

This damn tower has the ability to reduce me to an emotional age of approximately three. I look at it and my reaction is, "Wheee! Sky Tree!" Since it's right there – I can see it from this desk – I live my life in a state of perpetual childlike wonder. Which, if you think about it, isn't altogether bad; and anyway, I've never claimed to be mature.

I few days ago I discovered that Sky Tree has a special lighting design for Christmas: green! That was enough to make me dance a jig of joy. I took this photo last night. It's a very bad photo because I don't use a tripod (nudge nudge hint hint, Christmas present, please!), so I've included photos from this Sky Tree blog as well. Japanese websites refer to this colour as シャンパンツリー, i.e. champagne tree. Nice.

A green Sky Tree for Christmas

This is what it usually looks like at night: one night it's blue, the next night it's purple-ish.
PS: Look at that moon!

Photo credit: Click on the photo to see a bigger version.

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Photo credit:

Friday, 23 November 2012

Full English translation of Blumio's "Hey Mr Nazi"

A year ago I wrote a post about a Japanese-German rapper called Blumio. My blog regularly gets "search keyword" hits for "Blumio Hey Mr Nazi English lyrics", so I've tried to translate the full song.

Warning! My German is very shaky, and I haven't studied/spoken it for a very long time. Please regard this translation as a very rough draft. I'm publishing my attempt because nothing else is available. You can read the full German lyrics here.

Hey Mr Nazi
Please listen to me, I want to share a few words with you
What do you see when you look at me?
Only a small foreigner who smells like an animal
A dumb slit-eye, a shit rice-eater

Hey Mr Nazi, come to my party
I want to introduce you to my friends
They are Juspé and Kati, Thorsten and Nefatih
We have the same sense of humour
And we're saying hey Mr Nazi, come to my party, I'll show you my culture
It's sushi and technology, manga and origami, I've known it since my birth

Please tell me what you're thinking, because I want to know
Because I want you to recognize the truth
I don't stink at all; I wash myself every day
Man, if I stank, I'd get a brush-off from girls

Edit added 29 December 2012:  Thanks to dotBen (see comment below) for helping with that last line!

And no, I don't want to eat just rice either
Often I want to dip a Bockwurst into mustard
And then happily devour it; you didn't think that, did you?
See, I've brought some light/understanding into your world

I don't want to grab you, I offer you my hand
Please listen to my words, soak it up as if you were a sponge
Because it's easy to say "Nazis out"
But every person can change; I believe Nazis can do it, too

Do you know that feeling when a person leaves you
When a person leaves while you're fighting to the bitter end
Or that feeling when something good is happening and you forget your worries about the future
Or when you're in love, I don't really need to explain that
That feeling that you want to embrace the entire world
I know you know that feeling, we’re not that different

But you would step on a man and let him lie there
And the worst part is that he was a father and now there are dramas at his home
His daughter doesn't understand and asks every day
Mum, please tell me, why doesn't Dad come home?
He promised me that we'd go swimming and have a picnic at the windmill
When she's older she'll understand everything, but now she can only watch her mother cry

It's not easy to struggle with loneliness
Every person wants to be surrounded by like-minded friends
And before you know it, you're in a group where people point fingers at other skin colours
That can happen very quickly, that's no lie
Most people have racist tendencies
I've seen racist teachers and racist leaders and racist Germans and racist foreigners

I used to be a bit racist myself, do you see how easy it is?
I know, I was always talking about Japs this and Japs that, but basically I don't give a shit
I'm just a nice guy

And now I give my words (my) power and so I'll give up all my prejudices
You could say I look at these prejudices too crassly, but these prejudices are exactly where hate and war originate

Edit added 29 April 2015: Thanks to JustLikeRapunzel for help with that last verse!

PS: I'm tempted to disable comments. This post is for information; not for debates about Japan and WWII. You know Godwin's Law? It states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." Here's Ru's adaptation: "As an English online discussion in Japan grows longer, the probability of a reference to Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima, Nazis, whale murderers and 'weird and wacky' approaches 1." Heh. So first I disabled comments, then I enabled them again, now they'll stay enabled. Freedom of speech and all that.

PPS: I'm a white South African with German and Italian (as well as Dutch) blood who now lives in Japan. Do I have a talent for choosing the losing side or what? There's nothing you can tell me about racism, prejudices and the hypocrisy of the victor.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Tōdai ginkgo update

I took a few quick phone photos this morning. The trees should be at their most beautiful next week.

Eye halve a spelling chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer 
It came with my pea sea 
It plainly marques four my revue 
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea

 Eye strike the quays and type a whirred 
And weight four it two say 
Weather eye am wrong oar write 
It shows me strait a weigh

 As soon as a mist ache is maid 
It nose bee fore two long 
And eye can put the error rite 
Its rare lea ever wrong

 Eye have run this poem threw it 
I am shore your pleased two no 
Its letter perfect awl the weigh 
My chequer tolled me sew

To me, as a former sub-editor, it's a matter of honour to disable all spell checkers on my computers.

Another reason is that I shall never – never, says I! – succumb to American spelling, as so many programs* try to force me to do. It's colour, not color; theatre, not theater; dialogue, not dialog; encyclopaedia, not encyclopedia; traveller, not traveler. 

* Yes, it's program (not programme) in this specific context. British English uses program to refer to computer programs; programme for other uses.

That poem, incidentally, was originally coined by Jerrold H. Zar in 1992; but it has morphed into many different versions. Most spell checkers won't identify any mistakes in it because they check words in isolation.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Autumn in Sensei's Zōshigaya Cemetery

From the left side of a field I entered the cemetery and proceeded along a broad avenue bordered on each side by maple trees. There was a tea house at the end of the avenue, and I saw coming out of it someone that looked like Sensei ... I cried out aloud, "Sensei!" Sensei stopped, and saw me. 
We walked between tombstones on our way out … Silently, he listened to me for a while as I chattered on, pointing to this tombstone and that. But finally he turned to me and said, "You have never thought seriously of the reality of death, have you?" I became silent. Sensei said no more.
Towards the end of the cemetery, there stood a gingko tree, so large that it almost hid the sky from view. Sensei looked up at the tree and said, "In a little while, it will be beautiful here. The tree will be a mass of yellow, and the ground will be buried beneath a golden carpet of fallen leaves." Every month, I learned, Sensei made a point of walking by the tree at least once.
It's an excerpt from Kokoro (こころ) by Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石) (1867–1916), arguably Japan's most beloved author. He lies buried in the cemetery that plays such a big role in this novel, and last weekend I followed in his footsteps. Zōshigaya Cemetery was beautiful. The trees were a mass of yellow, and the ground was buried beneath a golden carpet of fallen leaves.

Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Autumn colours in Zōshigaya Cemetery

I love walking in Tokyo's big cemeteries. There's nothing frightening or depressing about them. They're havens of tranquillity and they never fail to calm me down, no matter how sad or angry I am. It's even better on a chilly autumn day, when the wind whispers from the trees and playfully tosses the leaves into the bright blue sky.

The most beautiful cemeteries are Yanaka, Aoyama and Zōshigaya; today we'll focus on Zōshigaya. It was founded in 1874, covers 10 hectares, welcomes all religions and is administered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association. It contains the graves of several well-known individuals, but Sōseki is probably its most famous resident.

He's one of Japan's best authors, and I think most Japanese people would at least recognize the names of this greatest novels: Kokoro, Botchan, Wagahai wa neko de aru (translated into English as I Am a Cat). His major themes are duty and desire; loyalty to your group versus freedom and individuality; personal isolation; Japan's industrialization during the Meiji era and the loss of its own culture; the struggle of ordinary people during tough economic times.

When I stood in front of his grave, I couldn't help recalling this passage from Kokoro: "I do not want your admiration now, because I do not want your insults in the future. I bear with my loneliness now, in order to avoid greater loneliness in the years ahead. You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves."

Other authors

I also wanted to track down two not-so-famous but, to me, equally important authors.

The first is Nagai Kafū (永井 荷風) (1879–1953). He's not as highly regarded as his contemporaries (Sōseki, Kawabata Yasunari, Tanizaki Jun'ichirō, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke), but I enjoy his stories because it's about the war years in my beloved shitamachi. His main translator, Edward Seidensticker, wrote in his biography Kafū the Scribbler: "He was a querulous, self-righteous man, whose social criticism rarely rose above the level of personal complaining, and whose grasp of the complex reality that is the human spirit was less than adequate; but a man, withal, whose love for his city and its traditions never wavered, and who expressed that love in prose worthy of the great classical Japanese essayists."

His grave is much smaller, tucked away in a back row, but I lingered there for a few minutes. Below, photos of Kafū and his grave:

The other author I visited was Koizumi Yakumo (小泉 八雲) (1850–1904), who's better known to English speakers as Lafcadio Hearn. He was one of the first English writers to introduce Japan to the rest of the world, and his love of the country is clear in every word he wrote. He's been accused of seeing Japan through glasses that were too rose-tinted, but his work remains historically important.

Roger Pulvers, an author and playwright who's written extensively about Hearn, says, "Hearn was alienated from Western society and from its underpinning ideology, namely Christianity, and did not consider himself as a representative of  the West; in other words, he came to observe, absorb and learn, not to teach, preach and excoriate. Hearn was able to respond to Japanese culture from the start, for he did not need to judge it with Western culture as a superior standard." (Complete article here.)

"Observe, absorb and learn (and, I'd like to add, participate); don't teach, preach and excoriate." All foreign residents in Japan should tattoo that on their foreheads.

Below, photos of Hearn and his grave, as well as a bigger photo that includes the grave of his wife, Koizumi Setsu.

How to get there

I walked to the cemetery – it took me about two hours from Taitō – but you can easily access it from Ikebukuro Station, Todenzōshigaya Station on the Tōden Arakawa Line or Zōshigaya Station on the Fukutoshin Line.

How to find graves

Oops. That would be difficult if you can't read Japanese or can't at least identify certain kanji. The cemetery has a map in Japanese, but even so, it took me a while to find Kafū's grave. The cemetery and I had a different idea of exactly where row 7 is in relation to row 8; and anyway, I can't follow a map if the map and I aren't both pointing in the direction in which we're supposed to be going.

You can find an online map here.

A last wisdom from Sōseki 

It might surprise you that I love this quote, given my decidedly academic approach towards life and the fact that I'm a pedagogue, but this is so true! It comes from the novel Sanshiro:

When he heard that Sanshiro was going to school forty hours a week, his eyes popped. "You idiot! Do you think it would 'satisfy' you to eat what they serve at your rooming house ten times a day?"
"What should I do?" Sanshiro pleaded.
"Ride the streetcar," Yojiro said.
Sanshiro tried to find Yojiro's hidden meaning, without success.
"You mean a real streetcar?" he asked.
Yojiro laughed uncontrollably. "Get on the streetcar and ride around Tokyo ten or fifteen times. After a while it will just happen by itself – you will become satisfied. 

"Why? Well, look at it this way. Your head is alive, but if you seal it up inside dead classes, you're lost. Take it outside and get the wind into it. Riding the streetcar is not the only way to get satisfaction, of course, but it's the first step, and the easiest."

Excellent advice. Take your head outside and your feet onto the streets. There's this whole big wonderful city called Tokyo waiting for you ...

Ikebukuro's skyscrapers in the background

Visitors at Sōseki's grave

This tombstone attracted my attention because it has a taiko drum!

This person really loved Aquarius!

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