Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: January 2013

Thursday, 31 January 2013

I'm off to sunny South Africa

I will be in sunny South Africa for most of February.

Yay. Sunshine, temperatures in the high twenties, long white deserted beaches, cheap fruit, friends, family, Afrikaans, earthy humour, crazy drivers, bad service, slow internet, chaos, crime and corruption! I can't wait!

I'm not being facetious. I think I've become way too complacent in Japan. You see, third-world countries …

Oh, I know I should be politically correct and refer to them as developing countries, but to hell with that. I need to practice blunt speech now that I'm going back. SA is a banana republic. It just happens to be exceptionally beautiful and relatively more efficient than other banana republics in Africa.

Anyway, you see, life in a banana republic has its own joys: energy, vitality, unpredictability, spontaneity, madness, laughter, creativity, warmth, no rules, no restrictions, no manners, danger, excitement, adrenaline.

SA is not a safety country, but it's my home, and it's good to be going back.

Beautiful Cape-Dutch architecture in Stellenbosch

I haven't been to SA for three years. I used to resent trips back home, mostly due to the expensive airline ticket and the hideously long journey: 26 hours of economy hell, a total of 36 hours from door to door. This time, though, I'm looking forward to it. I haven't enjoyed a summer in South African for many years.

I will stay in a small coastal town called Kleinmond, which is near a bigger town called Hermanus. That part of South Africa is called the Whale Coast. It's a breeding ground for the southern right whale, which makes it one of the best whale-viewing spots in the world.

You will understand why I don't tell random strangers in Kleinmond that I live in whale-hunting&munching Japan. (Let me state for the record: if a species isn't endangered, I see no reason why it can't be eaten. There's no moral distinction between killing a dumb cow, a cute bunny and a majestic whale. Personally I eat no seafood, and meat perhaps once a fortnight and only when dining out; but if you want to eat McDonalds or whale sashimi every day, どうぞ!)

Kleinmond is also famous for its fynbos. The so-called Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest of the world's six floral kingdoms, covers only 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.

Proteas in Kleinmond

So this time I'm taking my big camera with me. I want to take photos of our beaches, our flowers, our food. I won't be able to see whales – wrong season for that – but I might be able to snap a fairly huge human. There are plenty in SA.

I'm going to go offline this coming weekend. I won't access the web while I'm gone. Sometimes real life is more important than the virtual world, and anyway, the internet in SA is so slow that it turns me into a gibbering wreck within ten minutes. That's how long it takes for Google's home page to load.

I'm also going to disable comments before I leave, because I'm sick of the vile spam comments I've been getting.

Totsiens, almal. Goodbye, all. Stay warm, and talk to you again … I dunno when … I'm already on Africa time!

I don't have good photos of my home-home, because I've never lugged my big camera halfway around the world, but here goes:

The coastal road from Cape Town to Kleinmond

Kleinmond's beach, with Table Mountain far away in the distance

Table Mountain again, this time from the vineyards above Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch: blue sky, blue mountains

Also lots of vineyards and damn good wine!

University of Stellenbosch

Lanzerac, a Stellenbosch wine farm that was established in 1692

This map shows you where I grew up: the Western Cape of South Africa. I was born in Worcester, studied in Stellenbosch, worked in Cape Town, then lived in Johannesburg for several years and finally returned to Stellenbosch. After I moved to Japan, my oldest sister, her family and my mother moved to Kleinmond. That's where I will spend most of my holiday.


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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The glory of classical music

The world turns in giant circles of civilizations. What dominates today will die tomorrow. Culture is relative.

Yet. Oh, yet.

Western civilization, which I have criticised so mercilessly while living in both Africa and Asia, has one glorious highlight that has never been equalled by any other.

What is this splendour whereof Ru speaketh?

Science? No.
Technology? No.
Philosophy? No.
Democracy? No.
Equality for women? No.
Literature? Shakespeare, Chekhov, Proust, Eliot and Tolkien rule, IMO, but no.
War? You could argue that Western civilization has killed more effectively than any other rival, but actually, no, not war.

Music. Classical music.

Has any civilization produced anything remotely as magnificent as Corelli, Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Verdi, Arvo Pärt?

No. I offer as evidence ...




However, let us not forget that Western civilization also unleashed Justin Bieber upon the world. Canada, why?! I thought all Canadian men were real men who wore dashing Mountie uniforms and bashed each other's brains out on the ice rink?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Got a thorn in your side? Here's help.

Tamura was a samurai who lived in Edo. He was a tough guy, as samurai had to be, but he was helpless against his wife's illness. Doctors couldn't cure her and she was pining away. So her husband prayed to Jizō, devotedly, asking for salvation.

Jizō answered in a dream. Tamura was told to draw pictures of the god and to float them on a river. When the samurai awoke, a block of wood with a picture of Jizō on the surface had appeared at his bedside. Tamura covered the surface in red ink, made ten thousand impressions and released the papers in the Sumida River.

His wife recovered.

Jizō statue at Kōgan-ji

Tamura thought the block of wood was too sacred to keep. He donated it to a temple called Kōgan-ji (高岩寺), which was located in the Kanda area at that time (late 1600s, early 1700s). It was moved to Sugamo in the 1800s and now stands in Jizō-dōri (地蔵通り), which I wrote about in this post.

Entrance to Kōgan-ji. The photo was taken in late December.
That explains the New Year's decorations.

Ready for the second part of the story? Let's visit another household, this time belonging to a lord of the famous Mōri clan. One day one of his maids accidentally swallowed a broken needle that she'd been holding between her teeth. The needle got stuck in her throat and couldn't be removed. She was taken to Kōgan-ji, where a print of Jizō's likeness was made and added to a cup of water. When the maid drank the water, she threw up the needle.

That's how Kōgan-ji got its nickname, Togenuki Jizō (とげぬき地蔵) or "thorn-extracting Jizō"; and to this day it's believed that this particular temple has the power to remove thorns and splinters. If you go to the temple, you can buy a small strip of paper which you attach to your body wherever there's a thorn, a splinter or another ache. You can eat the paper too, if you wish, or …

Paper strips which you can buy at Kōgan-ji

You can go scrub Kannon. The more the suds fly, the better your health will be.

Although the temple is still called the thorn-extracting Jizō, it's equally famous for a statue called Arai Kannon Bodhisattva (洗い観音菩薩) or "washing Kannon". If you have any ache or illness, you should pour water on the statue's body – on the same spot where you have a problem – and then dry the statue with a cloth. That will cure your problem.

The Kannon statue at Kōgan-ji. You wash/dry the part of the statue's body
that corresponds to an ache in your own body.

I stood at the temple for a long time, watching old folk washing the statue.
Most visitors washed everything, from head to toes. 

You think she's from Osaka?

You can also buy amulets for healing, and some stalls provide acupressure for arthritic joints.

The temple is popular with the old folk who frequent this area, but you'll see plenty of youngsters lining up, too. The queue gets exceptionally long on the 4th, 14th and 24th of each month, which are regarded as extra auspicious days.

If that's an old woman, she's got amazing legs!

Not all visitors are old.

I read that in earlier years, the Kannon was scrubbed by brushes, but her devotees were so enthusiastic that they threatened to wear away the bronze statue. Nowadays you have to use a soft cloth.

Language note for non-English readers

"A thorn in your side" refers to a person or a situation that is causing trouble or making life difficult for you. The expression originated in The Bible (link here).

Kōgan-ji's entrance

The main temple itself. Most visitors make a beeline for Kannon.
The statue is to the left in this photo.


Early-morning incense smoke


Jizō statues at Kōgan-ji

This was very early in the morning. Give it another hour, and there will be
a long queue.


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Monday, 21 January 2013

Sugamo's sexy red bloomers for little old ladies

This is sexy! This is sooo sexy that an accompanying pamphlet warns you: "3 cm or 4 cm below your belly button, there is a point called Tan-Den. Even a touch to here may makes your feel warm! Notice: When sleeping, Red Panty may cause you excite and make you sleepless."

This alarmed me so much that I prudently bought red socks for myself rather than red bloomers. Warm excite feet sound manageable.

Sugamo's famous red underwear for men and women

I bet you're asking yourself, "What is Ru gaaning aan about?"

Let me tell you about Sugamo. Sugamo is a neighbourhood in the northeastern curve of the Yamanote Line that runs around Tokyo's centre. It's famous for a shopping street called Jizō-dōri (地蔵通り), also known as the Harajuku for grannies, but if you were to write it off as a geriatric graveyard, you'd be making a grave mistake. It's true that most of the shoppers can probably remember the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945 – heck, even the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 – but the beauty of this area is its history, traditional shops and temples. 

The southern entrance of Jizō-dori near Sugamo Station

Sign pointing towards the Togenuki Jizō temple

Jizō-dōri is named after a nearby temple that enshrines a famous Jizō, but more about that later. The shopping street follows the route of the old Nakasendō, is almost a kilometer long and has over two hundred shops. No Starbucks, no McDonalds, no Comme des Garçons. Plenty of sensible shoes, kampo apothecaries, Japanese sweets, green tea, rice crackers and shio-daifuku shops. The latter is a Sugamo specialty: it's a rice ball with red bean paste and a sprinkle of salt. Delicious.

You'll also find several branches of Maruji, the shop that made red bloomers (赤パンツ akapantsu) famous. I could explain this in my own words, but Maruji does it so much better. Here's their English …

Yes, English. This may be a shopping street for old fogeys, but it's more clued-up when it comes to international marketing than anything in Daikanyama. Better service, too.

Here's their English pamphlet, quoted verbatim:
The power of "The Red Panty"
3 or 4 cm below your belly button, there is a point called "Tan-Den". Even a touch to here may makes your feel warm!
In Oriental medicine, "Tan-Den" is remaked as the generator of invisible flow of energy Called "Q i". It is hard to explain though, without "Q i" our lives can't go on!
When your "Q i" gets weak, you may become sick lose your control or even miss your fortune! It is hard for us, ordinary people to get "Tan-Den" to be strong and also "Q i". But don't worry. "Red Panty" does it! All you have to do is put on it!
The red color accelerates the secretion of adrenalin and boosts your concentration, and works on the autonomic nervous system to rouse yourself to action. Added to these, it is said that the red cloth can warm your body, and fill your energy in Oriental medicine. Please choose brilliant red one and natural material one like silk or cotton.
Notice: When sleeping, "Red Panty" may cause you excite and make you sleepless. So put on ordinary colour underwear when you sleep.
Now do you understand why I love Sugamo?

Maruji's main store in Sugamo

Red explosion inside a smaller Maruji store

Bloomers! Please note size LL. (LL is 97-105 cm. Nope, it doesn't get bigger than that.)

The red bloomers may be a Maruji creation, but there really is a spot called tanden (丹田) or kikai tanden (気海丹田), which happens to be the body's centre of gravity. I'm well aware of my tanden, thanks to yoga as a youngster and zazen (meditation) as an adult. It's situated in front of your third lumbar vertebra, in other words, about 3 or 4 cm below your belly button. It's regarded as the central point of your ki () or life force, and plays an important role in meditation techniques as well as martial arts practice. (If you're into chakras, it's the swadhisthana.)

Tanden means red rice field; kikai means sea of energy. You beginning to see where the red panties come from?



More trivial information for fellowette fundoshi lovers Lina, Sarah and Cecilia: it's said that a fundoshi helps you to focus on your tanden. What it makes your observers focus on is another matter altogether, but let's remain circumspect, shall we?

Sugamo is a very friendly neighbourhood. Although I often grumble about old-timers, I have a huge soft spot for nice guys who don't think a long life justifies rudeness, and I enjoyed my interaction with shopkeepers and shoppers. While I was photographing a Maruji shop, a little old lady approached me. She was at least 97.

"Akapantsu!" she grinned at me.
"Yes, akapantsu! I want to buy a pair," I said.
"You're too young!" she chortled.
"It's for my mother."
"So da na, okaasan." Then the saucy minx continued, "I'm not wearing akapantsu."
I feigned horror. "You're not wearing pantsu?!"

That made us giggle for five minutes. It's the small stuff that counts, says I.

Can't afford a real pet? Here's an alternative. They move, bark and meow.


Sugamo is also famous for a temple called Kōgan-ji (高岩寺), alternatively known as Togenuki Jizō (とげぬき地蔵), but this temple and its thorn-extracting Jizo deserves its own post.

Let me rather tell you about two other places of worship at the two ends of Jizō-dori, Sugamo Kōshin-dō (巣鴨庚申堂) at the north-western entrance and Shinshō-ji (真性寺) at the southern entrance.

Sugamo Kōshin-dō used to stand on a very busy intersection of the Nakasendō on the outskirts of Edo. The crossroads was so famous that it was included in the Guide to Famous Edo Sites (江戸名所図会 Edo Meisho Zue), first published in 1834; and in those days it was guarded by a monkey-faced, six-armed deity called Kōshin (庚申), whose statue was often placed on village borders to protect residents.

The northern entrance to Jizō-dori, on the famous intersection guarded by Kōshin.
Kōshin-dō is to the left in this photo.

The entrance to Kōshin-dō. The lanterns read Sarutahiko Ōkami (猿田彦大神),because the long-nosed wanderer is enshrined here.

Kōshin worship is interesting. It has Taoist origins, and it's based on the belief that three worms called the sanshi (三尸) live in your  body, keeping record of all your good and bad deeds. Every sixtieth night, called kōshin-machi, the three worms leave your body to report to the heavenly gods what you've been up to. If you've been naughty, you'd try to stay up all night, because that would prevent the worms' departure and the gods wouldn't be able to punish you. (Worms? Ick. Why worms?)

Alternatively, the monkey deity Kōshin can protect you. If you're wondering what a monkey has to do with worms, look, it's all about the Chinese zodiac cycle and homonyms and deathbringers and … this is a blog … not an encyclopaedia. You can read more here.

Anyway, the three monkeys that you often see – Mizaru (see no evil), Kikazaru (hear no evil) and Iwazaru (speak no evil) – are also related to Kōshin. Finally, just to make things really interesting, Sarutahiko (猿田彦神), the long-nosed Shintō deity of the crossroads who's often depicted as a weather-worn wanderer, was linked to Kōshin in the Edo era.

A Sarutahiko mask at a festival in Taitō.
Sarutahiko often leads festival parades,
because he's a symbol of strength and guidance.

I include this complicated summary to explain why you can see monkey statues in front of Sugamo Kōshin-dō, and why Sarutahiko is enshrined inside.

This is where you can pray to Sarutahiko.

Monkey guardian at the entrance.
Note the three smaller monkeys: speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil.

His companion

Sarutahiko Ōkami (猿田彦大神)

The nearest station to the northern entrance is Kōshinzuka on the
Toden Arakawa Line (an old streetcar line).

Shinshō-ji (真性寺) is the other temple on the southern end of the shopping street, but I've already written about it: it's one of the sites of the six Jizō of Edo.

Jizō-dori has its own mascot called Sugamon (すがもん), who's described as a 12-year-old boy who comes from the land of ducks. He loves oranges, hates green onions and has his own very cute Twitter account, @Sugamon_dagamo. You can fondle his fluffy butt at the start of the shopping street. I'm not making this up. It feels great!

Sugamo's mascot, Sugamon

Sugamon's fluffy butt. The photo was taken in late December, hence the kadomatsu
(New Year's decorations consisting of pine and bamboo).

This has turned into another epic post. Coming up in my next post: a samurai, a sick wife, a maid who swallowed a broken needle, a thorn-extracting Jizō and a Kannon statue that you scrub to cure any illness.

Shinshō-ji


I took this photo to illustrate that they're really, umm, substantial.
I think they'll be too big for my mum, but never mind, it's part of the fun.
Please observe the title of the carefully selected book.

Socks for a hiker

You see Jizō statues everywhere.


Excellent idea!

I concur.

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