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Entries in Japan (13)

Saturday
May062017

Per Capita GDP by Prefecture

1. 東京都 692.60万円

Tokyo, $61,839

Tokyo’s economy is massive, almost as large as that of the Republic of Korea, the fifteenth largest economy in the world, and larger than Indonesia, Colombia, and many other countries.

2. 愛知県 426.96万円

Aichi, $38,121

3. 滋賀県 426.22万円

Shiga, $38,055

4. 静岡県 418.75万円

Shizuoka, $37,388

5. 大阪府 410.42万円

Osaka, $36,645

Osaka’s economy is about the same size of the U.A.E.’s.

6. 福井県 409.80万円

Fuki, $36,589

7. 富山県 399.82万円

Toyama, $35,698

8. 三重県 397.20万円

Mie, $35,464

9. 山口県 396.42万円

Yamaguchi, $35,395

10. 栃木県 388.84万円

Ibaraki, $34,718

11. 広島県 377.77万円

 Hiroshima

12. 茨城県 376.70万円

 Ibaraki

13. 長野県 372.86万円

 Nagano

14. 群馬県 369.92万円

 Gunma

15. 石川県 364.53万円

 Ishikawa

16. 岡山県 363.24万円

 Okayama

17. 新潟県 362.55万円

 Niigata

18. 山梨県 361.88万円

 Yamanashi

19. 徳島県 359.24万円

 Tokushima

20. 大分県 358.65万円

Oita

21. 香川県 358.53万円

 Kagawa

22. 福岡県 355.72万円

Fukuoka, $31,761

23. 京都府 355.58万円

 Kyoto

24. 福島県 351.21万円

 Fukushima

25. 和歌山県 349.60万円

 Wakayama

26. 宮城県 342.63万円

 Miyagi

27. 愛媛県 341.58万円

Aichi’s economy is slightly larger than Denmark’s, the 34th largest economy in the world.

28. 岐阜県 340.85万円

 Gifu 

29. 佐賀県 337.41万円

 Saga

30. 北海道 334.69万円

 Hokkaido

31. 神奈川県 328.88万円

Kanagawa’s economy is somewhat bigger than Singapore’s, the 36th largest economy in the world.

32. 兵庫県 328.31万円

Hyogo

33. 青森県 325.93万円

 Aomori

34. 秋田県 324.68万円

 Akita

35. 島根県 324.27万円

 Shimane

36. 山形県 319.85万円

 Yamagata

37. 鹿児島県 319.23万円

Kagoshima, $31,181

38. 鳥取県 311.71万円

Tottori, $27,831

39. 宮崎県 308.11万円

Miyazaki, $27,510

40. 岩手県 308.05万円

Iwate, $27,505

41. 長崎県 306.73万円

Nagasaki, $27,387

42. 熊本県 306.00万円

Kumamoto, $27,321

43. 千葉県 305.76万円

Chiba, $27,568

44. 高知県 282.46万円

Kochi, $25,220

45. 埼玉県 279.47万円

Saitama, $24,953

46. 沖縄県 267.48万円

Okinawa, $23,882

47. 奈良県 253.53万円

Nara, $22,637

Thursday
May232013

Head of the Class

   With my wife in the hospital suffering from exhaustion (she's fine now) and Grandma out of town, I was left with two options: take the day off or bring my three-year-old son to work. (If a Member of Congress can do it . . .)

   Anyways, I sent this photo to my family and all everyone wanted to know was why the girls were wearing surgical masks.

   Could be a number of things, I wrote back:


1. They may have a cold and don't want it to spread. (Thoughtful.)

2. They don't want to catch another person's cooties. (Paranoid.)

3. They have hay fever and are trying to keep it from worsening. (Probably too late.)

4. They are trying to avoid breathing in the smog that China exports to us along with other low-cost, high-externality crap. (Understandable, but most likely meaningless.)

5. They have herpes. (Gotcha. Keep the mask on.)

6. Or, they have merely overslept and didn't have time to put their faces on. The girls are too embarrassed to show their face. (Now, you'd think it would be more embarrassing to wear a silly mask like that in public, but what do you know, you silly gaijin?)

 

   A few days later, I asked the two girls in the photo why they had been wearing masks that day and learned that it was, as I expected, because they hadn't been wearing make-up. "What's the big deal," I said. "I'm not wearing make-up now!"
   This is a fairly new phenomenon: young women in Japan didn't use to do it, say, five years ago. You may read into that what you like.
Sunday
Feb052012

The Incredibly Shrinking Nation

   In 2004 Japan’s population peaked at 127.8 million people[1]. Because the fertility rate[2] in Japan has remained far below the 2.2 or so needed to maintain a population, the population has been falling steadily. If nothing changes, the population of Japan is predicted to fall to less than 90 million by the year 2055.

   While the nation anxiously wrings its hands, I have to ask what to me seems like an obvious question: is this really a problem?

   Personally, I think there are far too many people in this crowded country and population decline ought to be not only welcomed, but celebrated as one of the successes of a modern society. If you go to nationmaster.com and have a look at the birth rates, you’ll find that Japan is fourth from the bottom, down there with Macau and Hong Kong, two of the worlds most densely populated places.[3] The countries with the highest birthrates are, not surprisingly, poor, less developed, and predominately African ones.

   Now, I realize that with population decline comes a number of seemingly knotty issues, such as how the pension system will be funded, and so on.[4] But, on the whole, I think the demographic change provides far more opportunities than it does challenges. (The same can be said about last year’s massive earthquake and tsunami. I’ll write more about this later.)

   While the population of Japan as a whole has been in decline for the past eight years, you might be surprised to learn that cities like Fukuoka have grown steadily.

   When I first moved to Fukuoka in 1993, the city had a population of 1.246 million people. Since then, the population has increased and stands at 1.443 people today. The foreign community has doubled from 12,621 in 1993 to 24,555 in 2011.

   What is the cause of this growth? One theory (my own) ascribes the increase to the comparatively large number of attractive women in the Fukuoka, the so-called Hakata Bijin (博多美人, “Hakata Beauty”), which has eager men flocking to the city in droves.[5] Others point more correctly to kasoka (過疎化), or the depopulation of towns and villages as people pull up stakes and move to the cities where there are better-paying jobs and more opportunities. 

   Out of curiosity, I looked into the demographics of Iizuka, that oft-maligned (mostly by me) city to the northwest of Fukuoka, to see how the population had changed over the years. I was surprised to see that although the city’s population was down from a high of 140,463 people in 1995, it was still higher than in the decades following the end of the war when the mines were still giving up plenty of coal and jobs abounded. I guess having a powerful politician fighting for your cause—in this case former Prime Minister Tarô Aso—does have its benefits, if not plenty of pork barrel. The city is today home to one of the campuses of Kyûkôdai (九工大, Kyûshû Institute of Technology).

   Fukuoka, though, has much more going for it, which might explain why so many people from throughout the Kyûshû-Okinawa region relocate here. That might also explain why for several years running Fukuoka has been chosen by a number of magazines, including Monocle, as one of the world’s best cities. (Personally, I think that’s going a little too far. It is a nice place, but one of the world’s best? C’mon, who ya kiddin’?)[6]

 


[1] Numbers vary. The Japanese language site gave the above figure. Another English language site had the population at 128.1 million in 2010.

[2] The fertility rate refers to the average number of children born to women throughout their reproductive years. The fertility rate, which was 3.65 in 1950, fell to 1.91 in 1975. It stands around 1.37 today.

[3] Japan is the 38th most densely populated country in the world.

[4] I will discuss this so-called problem in the next post.

[5] Many young women will disagree with this, claiming that the city doesn’t have many men. They’ll even argue that there are eight women for every available man. I don’t know where this statistic comes from, but I’ve heard it again and again over the years. Funny, but the two single women who first told me of this imbalance have moved to Tôkyô where—surprise, surprise—they remain single.

[6] I often joke that “Fukuoka is a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit it”. There just isn’t that much for tourists to do and see. 

Tuesday
Jan102012

Tôka Ebisu Festival


 

   One of the nice things about living in Japan is that there is always some festival or holiday to look forward to. Unlike America where once the holiday season ends with New Year's or, ho-hum, the feast of the Epiphany on January sixth, there is a long lull in festive events, in Japan something fun is always just around the corner. Once Christmas has passed, the trees come down and up go the kadomatsu and other New Year's decorations.    After the five or six-day drinking, eating, and TV-viewing binge known as O-Shôgatsu, or the Japanese New Year, comes Tôka Ebisu, a festival honoring Ebisu, the patron deity of businesses and fisheries. At around the same time, the Coming-of-Age Day celebration celebrating the entry into adulthood of the nation's twenty-year olds, is held. There is the bean-throwing exorcism known as Setsu-bun in early February, as well as a number of local festivals held in shrines and temples in the meantime.

   On Sunday, I went to Fukuoka's main Ebisu shrine which is located just outside of Higashi Park. While I sometimes miss the New Year's celebrations do to travel, I always manage to get back in time to attend the Tôka Ebisu festival. 

   Like most other festivals held throughout the year in Japan, you'll find the usual demisé food stalls selling o-konomiyaki (below), jumbo yakitori, and so on. What makes Tôka Ebisu different, however, is the number of stalls selling good luck items featuring the seven lucky gods (Shichi Fukujin) of which Ebisu is one, talismansand other trinkets to ward off bad luck, and so on. 

   The festival also attracts a much different class of people. Whereas you can see many young men and women at the harvest festival Hôjoya (also known as Hôjoe), the people attending Tôka Ebisu tend to be older and "tarnished", making it an interesting place to people watch. I never fail to find the middled aged mamas of "snacks", rough-looking men who look as if Ebisu hasn't been very generous to them, and others desperate for an auspicious start to the new business year.

   This year, there seemed to be far more people at the festival than usual. Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was that after 2011 everyone is hoping for a bit of luck.

   Corn on the cob.

   Sweet roasted chestnuts.

 

   If you look closely at the apex of the crowd you can see an upside down red fish, a sea bream. This is a symbol of Ebisu who is often depicted carrying one. In Japanese the sea bream is called tai which rhymes with medetai, meaning “happy”, “auspicious”, or “successful”. Real sea bream are often displayed at a celebratory gatherings, such as New Years, the end of sumô tournaments, engagement ceremonies, and so on.

   Just beyond the red sea bream is a procession of the Hakata Geiki, a troupe of geisha working in Fukuoka City. I’ll write about them in a later post in the coming months. Incidentally, the photo on the cover of my second novel, A Woman’s Nails, was taken at this event several years ago. 

   Chocolate covered bananas. I loved these as a kid but don’t have the courage to try one now. 

   The geisha making their way to the shrine. This procession is held every year at the height of the Tôka Ebisu festival and worth seeing. This year we just happened to be there when it was taking place.

   Another feature of Tôka Ebisu is the drawing that is held at the shrine. On either side of the shinden there are booths selling tickets.

   The first time I attended the festival was over ten years ago and didn’t know what to expect. So, when I pulled out one of the lots from a hexegonal box and the Shintô priest shouted, “Ôatari!” (Jackpot!), my mind filled with delicious possibilities: a new car? A trip to Hawaii? Cash? I had never ever won so much as a cakewalk or bingo game before. Needless to say, I was quite excited.

   As another priest pounded out several beats on a drum and shouted “Ôatari,” the first priest pulled out a huge red fan from a pile of trinkets and talismans behind him and passed it to me. The fan had 商売繁盛 (shôbai hanjô, “prosperity in business”) written on it in large white characters. Prosperous was the last thing I felt.

   That didn’t stop me, however, from going back year after year and trying my luck. In the past, the tickets were only ¥1,500. Today, they go for ¥2,000 each—so much for the deflationary pressure we are told has been pushing prices lower and lower—and where I once bought two or three of the tickets, I now only buy one.

   Over the years I have “won” two of those large red shôbai hanjô fans, a massive wooden paddle as big as a cricket bat that has 一斗二升五合[1] written on it, a plate featuring Ebisu-sama, a wooden piggy bank, a calendar, and a small Ebisu doll.

   A dutiful follower of this cult of Ebisu, I went on the tenth of January last year. The weather was awful—freezing cold and rainy—and I had been forced to wait under a canopy that leaked like a sieve for a good hour and a half until my wife and son showed up.

   When they finally did, I was in a foul mood. My pant legs and shoes soaking wet, the cold was beginning to seep into my bones.

   “Let’s just get the damn thing and head on home, okay?” I grumbled to my wife. “It’s freezing!”

   We hurried into the shrine, which thanks to the lousy weather was not as crowded as it usually can be during the festival. There was only a handful of people in line for the drawing.

   Well, no sooner had we handed over our ¥2000 at the reception desk than the man at the counter said, “Congratulations, you’re our twenty-five-thousandth visitor.” Or something like that. He had us fill out a form and then asked us to follow him to the place where the lots were drawn. After handing the form to the priest with the box containing the lots, I was told to pull one of the sticks out. It didn’t matter which. I did so and gave it to the priest who stood up and, turning on a microphone, said he had a big announcement to make.

   “We have a major prize for our twenty-five-thousandth visitor today!” Another priest started banging away at a drum. The other priests in the shinden stopped what they were doing, stood up, and started clapping in unison. After a number of Banzais, the priest handed over a massive and cumbersome bamboo rake to me. It was adorned with ceramic depictions of the gods Ebisu and Daikoku, a red sea bream, a bale of rice, and other auspicious items.

   Let me tell you, I couldn’t have been more thrilled had I won a trip to Hawaii.

   I don’t know if it is thanks to Ebisu-sama, my son whose arrival in my life signaled the beginning of things finally going my way, or plain dumb luck, but last year ended up being the very best year ever in so many ways.

   When you’ve already won the jackpot, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to continue dropping quarters into the slot machine, and yet that is essentially what we did by returning to the Ebisu festival this year and trying our hand at the drawing again.

   “Don’t get your hopes up,” my wife said.

   “I know, I know,” I replied. “But still, it would be nice to get one of those boats with the seven lucky gods in it. I’ve always wanted one for the collection.”

   Sure enough, Ebisu wasn’t as generous to us this year: we got a simple little wooden abacus. I suppose the message the gods are trying to tell us is that we should be more careful about how we spend money. Duly noted, Ebisu-sama!


[1] Ask your Japanese friends to try reading 一斗二升五合and most of them will be stumped. It is a riddle of sorts employing 斗, 升, 合 all of which are traditional Japanese measures of volume.

   一斗 (itto, about 18 liters) is equal to ten 升 (shô, about 1.8 liters). 一斗, then, can be said to equal 五升の倍 (go shô no bai), which means “five shô doubled”. 五升の倍 (go shô no bai) is synonymous with 御商売 (go shôbai) which means “one’s business or trade”. Got that?

  二升 (nishô). 升 can also be read masu. 二升 here is read “masu masu” which sounds like 益々 (masu masu), meaning “more and more”, “steadily”, and so on.

  五合 (go gô, 5 x 0.18 liters, or 0.9 liters) is one half of a shô or 半升 (hanjô) which sounds the same as 繁盛 (hanjô, prosperity). So, putting it all together 一斗二升五合 can be read “Go-shôbai masu masu hanjô!” (御商売益々繁盛), meaning something to the effect that your business or trade will enjoy increasing prosperity.

Thursday
Nov102011

Gusuku

   Zakimi Castle (座喜味城 Zakimi Gusuku) is a gusuku, or Okinawan fortress, located in Yomitan, Okinawa Prefecture. Built between 1416 and 1422 by the Ryûkyûan militarist Gosamaru, the castle oversaw the northern portion of the Okinawan mainland, then known as the Hokuzan Kingdom. The gusuku fortress has two inner courts, each with an arched gate. This is Okinawa's first stone arch gate featuring the unique keystone masonry of the Ryûkyûs. 

   During World War II, the castle was used as a gun emplacement by the Japanese army, and after the war it was used as a radar station by the US forces. Some of the walls were destroyed in order to install the radar equipment, but they have since been restored.

   Zakimi Castle, along with Shuri Castle and several other related sites in Okinawa, were desiganted a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2000. They are also designated a National Historical Site.

Thursday
Nov102011

To the Knackers!

   I had an interesting conversation with a friend last night.

   For the past few years Kei has been importing riding horses to Japan from Germany and early on I helped her out with correspondence, drawing up preliminary contracts, and so on. The reason she came to me is that, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I once lived in Germany and can still understand the language somewhat. Kei only knew a handful of words: ja, nein, danke schön, bitte. In the kingdom of the blind, they say, the one-eyed man is king.

   Fortunately for her and me, most of the Germans we were dealing with spoke damn good English.

   Two years later, her business has expanded with small, yet encouraging steps and has had her traveling to Europe on a monthly basis, shopping for horses, investing in them, and participating in international equestrian events as a judge. Reading this, you might get the impression that Kei is a fabulously wealthy woman, but nothing could be further from the truth: she is, in fact, a modestly working class, single mother who has gotten by on her wits and creativity. I have a lot of respect for the woman.

   Anyways, Kei will be making two trips to Germany again next month to introduce a German breeder/trainer to her Japanese client who’s interested in buying a “high level horse”. Until now, Kei has been buying horses with somewhat humble pedigrees for eventing[1] enthusiasts and riding clubs in Kyûshû and was excited to finally deal in some top level horses.

   Hearing this, I joked that there were four levels of horses: high-level, mid-level horses, low-level, and glue.

   This is where the conversation became interesting.

   Kei laughed then told me about a local company called Kohi Chikusan owned by a Mr. Kohi (sounds like the Japanese pronunciation of coffee). Kohi, she said, takes “compromised” horses off of stables’ hands and “makes arrangements for them”. Some of these horses are put down, some are resold and show up, seemingly miraculously, at rival stables, and a few are sold for horsemeat. (Don’t worry, most of the horsemeat used in the delicacy basashi[2] comes from Australia.)

   “Whenever a horse acts up or doesn’t respond well,” Kei said laughing, “we tell it we’re going to call Kohi-san.”

   I couldn’t help but be reminded of the scene in George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm when Boxer is sent to the glue factory.

   I tried to google Kohi Chikusan, but couldn’t find anything.

   “They don’t have a website,” Kei said.

   “No, I don’t suppose they would.” Talk about a niche business!

   Kei explained that they had to use the service because when a horse weighing five hundred kilos dies it’s nearly impossible to move it. Rigor mortis sets in within a few hours after death, freezing the horse in the position that it died in, and the only way to get it out of a stable is to chain it to the back of a tractor and drag it out. Not exactly the kind of thing you want your paying customers to see when they’re practicing their jumps.

   “So, whenever a horse becomes too ill for the veterinarian to treat, we call Kohi-san.”

   “Kohi isn’t a very common name, is it?” I said.

   “That’s because he’s a Buraku-min,” she replied matter-of-factly. “A lot of people involved in that kind of business come from the Buraku-min. Meat handlers, too.”

   This morning when I was looking into the family names of the Buraku, I learned that while the caste system of feudal Japan was abolished in Japan in the early years of the Meiji Period and all Japanese were assigned family names (for more on this go here), the Buraku were given family names that would make them still recognizable from ordinary Japanese a hundred years later. These names apparently include the following Chinese characters: 星 (star); body parts, such as 手 (hand), 足 (foot), 耳 (ear), 頭 (head), 目 (eye); the four points of the compass, 東 (east), 西 (west), 南 (south), 北 (north); 大, 小 (large and small); 松竹梅 (pine, bamboo, plum), 神, 仏 (god and buddha) and so on. Examples include: 星野 (Hoshino), 小松 (Komatsu), 大仏 (Osragi), 神川 (Kamikawa), 猪口 (Inoguchi/Inokuchi)、熊川 (Kumakawa)、神尾 (Kamio), and so on. (Beware of assuming that everyone with these kinds of names are Buraku-min, they are not.)

   I wrote about the Buraku-min in No. 6. The passage from my novel discussing these unlucky people has been included below. 


   In the afternoon, I’m summoned to the interrogation room where Nakata and Ozawa are waiting for me.

   Both of them are in an easy, light-hearted mood today. The desk is free of notebook computers; there are no heavy bags filled with thick folders of evidence on the floor.

   Ozawa is slouched comfortably in his seat, tanned fingers locked behind his head.

   "What was the name of that Korean restaurant you mentioned last week?" he asks.

   "Kanyô," I say, taking my usual seat, still bolted to the floor.

   "Where was that again?"

   "It's in Taihaku Machi, a rough neighborhood near the Chidori Bridge."

   "Taihaku Machi?"

   "Along the Mikasa River, across from Chiyo Machi."

   "Chiyo? Ugh!" he says grimacing. "Why is it that all the good Korean restaurants have to be located in the shittiest part of town?"

   Nakata asks me if I know what Eta is. I shrug.

   Ozawa tries to look it up in his electronic dictionary, but can't find it.

   "Figures," he grumbles.

   "How do you write it," I ask.

   Ozawa scribbles the following two kanji in his notebook: 穢多 The first character, 穢, he says, can be read as kitanai and means filthy. It can also be read as kegare. Finding the entry, Ozawa spins his dictionary around to show me that kegare means impuritystainsin, and disgrace. The other, more common character, 多, pronounced ta, or ôi, means plenty, or many. So, eta, connotes something that is abundantly filthy or impure.

   Then it hits me that the eta Nakata is alluding to is yet another word that editors of Japanese-English dictionaries conveniently omit: buraku-min.

   The Buraku-min (lit. hamlet people) were a class of outcasts in feudal Japan who lived in secluded hamlets outside of populated areas where they engaged in occupations considered to be vitiated with death and impurity such as butchering, leather working, grave-digging, tanning and executions.

   For the Shintô who believed that cleanliness was truly next to godliness, those who habitually killed animals or committed otherwise heinous acts were considered to be contaminated by the spiritual filth of their acts and thereby evil themselves. As this impurity was believed to be hereditary, Buraku-min were restricted from living outside their designated hamlets and not allowed to marry ordinary people. In some cases they were even forced to wear special costumes, footwear, and identifying marks.

   The Emancipation Edict of 1871 intended to eradicate the institutionalized discrimination and the former outcasts were formally recognized as citizens. However, thanks to family registries, known as koseki, which are assiduously kept by officials in every Japanese city, town and village, it was easy to identify who was Buraku-min from their ancestral home, and discrimination against them continued.

   Shortly after coming to Japan, the wife of a company president once confided to me that she and her husband might be willing let his daughter, God forbid, marry an ethnic Korean, but would never countenance her marrying a Buraku-min. He would never hire one, either.

   "Never? Regardless of the person's talent?" I asked.

   "The damage to the image of my husband's company would be far greater than any benefit such an employee could ever bring."

   And that's how it goes in this sophisticated democracy: you can still be discriminated against just because your great-great-great grandfather had a shitty job.

   Today there are some four thousand five hundred Dôwa Chiku, or former Buraku communities that were designated by the government in the late sixties for the so-called assimilation projects. Over the next three decades, housing projects and cultural facilities were constructed, and infrastructure improved in the dowa chiku to raise the standard of living of the residents of those areas.

   There are an estimated two million descendents of Buraku-min in Japan today, most of whom live in the western part of the country, particularly in the Kansai area around Osaka, and in Fukuoka Prefecture.

   "Chiyo’s a Dôwa Chiku," Nakata says. "Crawling with Eta."

   "I know," I say.

   “You do?”

   The fact was first brought to my attention many years ago when I was searching for an apartment. A kindly old woman I had just met was all too eager to help me. She pulled out a map of the city from her handbag and, without elaborating, began crossing out "undesirable places", many of them located along the rivers. When I asked why, she said: "Trust me, you don’t want to live there." And so I did, finding a cheap one-room apartment in one of the tonier areas near Ôhori Park.

   "Those people are nothing but trouble," Nakata says. "Riffraff the lot of them."

   "You’re kidding, right?"

   He leans forward, resting his rotund chest against the desk. "There were a lot of Eta in my hometown when I was young. Nothing, but trouble. If you ever got in a fight with one these Eta bastards, the next thing you know, you're surrounded by a group of them. Sneaky guttersnipes."

   The thought of Nakata as a chubby little kid in glasses getting the snot beaten out of him by a gang of Buraku boys almost causes a laugh to percolate out of me.

   "Surely not all of them?" I say.

   "Yes, all of them," Nakata replies and sits back, brushing his wimpy salt and pepper mustache with his fingers.

   Ozawa asks if I've heard of the Yamaguchi Gumi.

   "The yakuza gang?"

   "Yeah. Biggest crime syndicate in Japan. It's mostly comprised of these Eta scum."

   "Most yakuza gangs are," says Nakata.

   "I had no idea," I say.

   "Nothing but trouble," Nakata says again.

   "Say, what's the deal with the girls working the food stalls at the festivals," I ask. "I've heard they're run by the yakuza."

   "They are. The girls are Eta bitches," Nakata replies.

   "Pretty damn cute bitches," I say.

   Dregs of Japanese society or not, quite a few of the young girls working at festivals are knockouts.

   After fifteen years, Japan can still be an enigmatic country. One thing I've never been quite able to figure out is why the best-born Japanese girls are so homely. The ugly daughters of good families, I call them. And, at the risk of being stabbed by some right wing nut, I must add that at the top of that ignoble list of repellent bluebloods is Princess Nori who only last year managed to find a suitably humdrum partner at the ripe age of thirty-five.

   "Cute they are," says Ozawa snickering. "Cute they are. Every evening in Chiyo you'll see small armies of the chicks all dolled up hopping into taxis. Off to Nakasû. Shoot the breeze with one of them and some yakuza prick will strut on up and start breakin' your balls as if you were hitting on his woman. That's when the badge comes in handy, of course. Hee-hee."

   "I wouldn't go near one of those girls with a barge-pole," Nakata pipes in.

   As if the man has to beat the girls away with a stick.

   "There's something I've been meaning to ask you," I say.

   "Shoot," says 0zawa.

   "A lot of the guys in the joint here, and last week at the jail at the Prefectural Police Headquarters, for that matter, are obviously yakuza."

   "Yeah?"

   "I don't get it."

   "Don't get what?"

   "In the States, there is, among so many crime syndicates, the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, right? You know, The Godfather, and all that. Well, these guys used to bend over backwards to deny that the Mafia even existed. Here in Japan, though, the yakuza practically advertise their criminal activity with missing pinkies, lapel pins, and bodies covered in tattoos."

   It borders on the absurd. If cops were seriously interested in taking a bite out of crime, the first thing they ought to do is clamp down on these shady characters. The police, of course, will counter that they aren't in the business of preventing crime: they can't make any arrests until a crime had been committed. Which begs the question of why someone like me has to molder away in a stinking cell.

   "The ones who strut and swagger," Ozawa says, "are good-for-nothing punks. All bluster and no brawl. They kick up a fuss because they don't have the balls to actually do anything. No, the yakuza you really have to watch out for are the quiet ones, the ones who never raise their voices, or show their tattoos. Those bastards will whack a person at the drop of a hat."

   “Better get a hat with a strap then.”

 


[1] Eventing is an equestrian event encompassing dressage, show jumping, and so on.

[2] Basashi (馬刺) is thinly sliced raw horse meat, popular in Kumamoto

 

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A complete version of No. 6 is now available for a variety of devices at Amazon's Kindle store.

The first installment of No. 6 can be found here.

Tuesday
Nov082011

Miss Universe Japan

    In a recurring dream, I find myself the Lord of the island of Kyûshû and the inner palace, the Ôoku, is filled with these gorgeous women, the finalist of the Miss Universe Japan, Kyûshû round. Needless to say, I usually wake with "a skip in my step". 

   While all of these beauties are winners in my book, only one of them, to be chosen November 27, will go on to compete in the national contest later next spring. 

   Best of luck to all of you! 

 

   P.S. In the event that you are not chosen, you always know where you can go for some comforting.

Sunday
Nov062011

Out of the Mouth of Babes

   You won't learn this in your Japanese class, not if you have the kind of stuffy teacher who is mortified by the prospect of her charges speaking improper Japanese like I did. My six months of Japanese lessons never prepared me for the way people actually spoke. I'm not talking about the dialects, the hôgen, about which I sometimes write. No, what I'm getting at is the colloquial Japanese spoken by young Japanese.

   Teaching young women at two different universities, I am exposed to this fairly new kind of speaking on a daily basis. The classes I am in charge of at one university are called "Supisuki" by the students. That real title of the class is "Speaking Skills" (スピーキングスキル → スピスキ). I once taught a Reading Skills class that the kids called "ライスキ" (ライティングスキル → ライスキ).

   It doesn't stop with class names, of course. Nearly everything can be abbreviated--nouns, adjectives, verbs. The above word uzai is a corruption of uzattai, an adjective meaning nitpicky, troublesome, a hassle, persisitent, and confusing.

   More examples:

   Gurotesuku (grotesque) → GURO (グロ!)

   Makudonarudo (McDonalds) → Makku (マック)

   Suma-tofon (Smart Phone) → Sumaho (スマホ)

      ★ Incidentally, I'm trying to get young people to say kashiden (カシ電) as in kashikoi keitai denwa (clever mobile phone). There have been precious few converts.

   Kimochi warui (uncomfortable, disgusting) → kimoi (キモイ)

      ★ The slang form, like guroi, sounds more disgusting than the original.

   Nomi hôdai (all you can drink) → Nomiho (のみほ)

   Tabe hôdai (all you can eat) → Tabeho (たべほ)


   Mabushii (bright, as in blindingly so) → Mabui (まぶい)

   Keitai denwa (mobile phone, cellular phone) → Keitai (携帯)

   Riaru ga jûjitsu shiteiru yosu (The sense that "real life", namely that life when not working or going to school, is fulfilling. Used among otaku and NEETs) → Riajû (リア充)

   Kashisu Orenji (Casis Orange cocktail popular with young women) → Kashiore (カシオレ) 

   Gûguru de kensaku suru (Google something) → Guguru (ググる)

   Kurisuto Kyôgaku (Christianity Studies class) → Kurikyô (クリ教) 

   Chûtohanpa ja nai (Not half arsed = great) → Hanpa janai → Hanpa ne~ → Pane~ (ぱねぇ)

   Muzukashii (difficult, hard) → Muzui (むずい) 

   Mendôkusai (troublesome, meddlesome, a hassle) → Mendoi (めんどい) 

Sunday
Nov062011

Tatami

   Tatami comes to my place with an apology and a present. She never fails to bring either.

   This time, as she is begging forgiveness for the impertinence of her unannounced visit, she pulls out some pastries and sweet rolls from an impractically frilly bag and places them on my coffee table. She also produces a bottle of mineral water, and some apple juice. Tatami's pedigree and upbringing ensured that no matter how physically unattractive a woman she may have become, she would still have the manners and grace to allow her to move among the most exclusive of Japanese social circles. In the presence of the bourgeoisie, I suspect, she is something of a curious anachronism, but among working class boors like myself, who have little use for the formalisms imposed by privilege, she seems to be adrift in the sea, weighed down by too much baggage.

   Tatami sits down next to me on the sofa and tries for the next hour to engage me in conversation, by which I mean, several minutes of niceties followed by anodyne chit-chat.

   There is something on her mind, something she seems to be eager to say, or something she wants me to do, but she won’t come out with it. It has always been that way with her: she expects me to read it in the subtle signals of her body language.

   Sweet as Tatami is, she can be annoying as hell, and so I feign illiteracy.

 

   When I’ve had my fill of her snacks and there is little left that her company can offer aside from irritation, I politely suggest that she leave.

   She stands reluctantly and straightens her dress. She picks the frilly bag up and moves with reluctant steps towards the door where she takes her time putting her shoes on. Suddenly, she pulls me into me into those bony pale arms of hers, presses her face into my chest, and sighs, "I don't want to leave."

   Oh dear!

   "Well, as a matter of fact I was rather busy when you ca..."

   "J-just let me sit for a moment."

   What can I do? I have little choice, but to say yes, just as I said yes when she had first asked me in the most pained and circumlocutory manner to sleep with her a week ago.

   That, I realize, like so many things in life—far, far too late—was a grave mistake. My friend Shinobu had been right: the poor girl was indeed a virgin. A thirty year old virgin. I didn't think there were any left. Much like devout Christians back in the States, girls from good Japanese families tended to keep their pants on until marriage.

 

   How Tatami had gone from insisting that, in spite of my intransigent lack of interest in her, she could never be my girlfriend to her insisting upon my popping that long neglected cherry of hers boggles the mind. I had merely been going with the flow, expecting and wanting nothing more than friendship, someone to talk to. How the devil did I end up becoming a debutante's boy-toy?

   There had been no forewarning. None so ever.

   Okay, so I had twice joked about taking her to a love hotel, but I had only been only joking, trying to get a bit of a rise out of the woman. I hadn't been serious about it at all, yet somehow those two jokes, mentioned off-handedly and soon forgotten by myself, had been crafty little seeds which would by and by germinate in her mind and grow into a verdant, lascivious fantasy. 

   On her thirty-first birthday, I took her to a Spanish restaurant where—surprise, surprise—I ended up having a bit too much to drink. It was then that Tatami asked me to have sex with her.

   Not that she put it so directly. She could never have said, "Peador, I want you to fuck my brains out right this minute!" No, all she could do was offer some vague hints and hope they would be concrete enough for me to catch them.

   “It’s my birthday, so I’d like you to do something special for me.”

   “Oh? And what would that be?”

   “I’ll give you two hints.”

   “This a game?”

   “Please listen,” she said. “The first hint: you said it when we were walking in Ôhori Park last month.”

   “Last month in Ôhori Park?”

   “Yes. We were near the Boat House and I asked you where you’d like to go and . . .”

   Gulp! And I said, How’s about we pop into the Love Hotel over there?

   The first hint was as concrete as the sidewalk leading all the way back to my place, as concrete as the steps we climbed to my fourth floor apartment, where for the third time in my life I spread the legs of a virgin, trembling with fear and excitement, and slowly violated her sanctity with the profanity of a semi-hard cock.

   Let me tell you, I'll never understand why some men desire virgins. As far as I'm concerned, they're not worth the trouble.

 

   Tatami manages to coax me back to the sofa, where she then pesters me until I embrace her. I put my arms around her and give her a cold, perfunctory hug. With my arms hanging loosely around her, she presses her cheek against my chest, and moves her thin fingers towards my crotch. Finding a half-enthusiastic bulge there, she grabs it softly. Then, ever so gingerly and cautiously, as if she was afraid of letting something feral out of its cage, she unzips my pants.

   I’m not really in the mood, and can't get too worked up about doing it with her of all people, but what can you do when you’ve got a defiant boner? It’s high treason! Mutiny, I say! And, Tatami gleefully commandeers it. She slips her hands into the front of my pants, fumbles around as if she is searching for a pen in her handbag--an exceptionally large pen I might add—and, finding it, clamps onto it tightly in case it changes it's fickle mind.

   Tatami then lets out a deep sigh. Is this what she has been after all along? Turning her face to mine and with her eyes closed, she parts her lips, inviting me to kiss her. As enthusiastic as my backstabbing little friend has become, I just can’t get fired up about kissing her. When I hesitate, she takes the initiative and starts kissing me. Big, sloppy, clumsy kisses. She puts her tongue down my throat and is now squeezing Lil' Paddy for all it’s worth. If she isn't going to pleasure the sperm out of me, then it appears that she is going to force it out of me the way you might get the last bits of toothpaste out of an old tube.

 

   Though the effort will prove futile, it is nevertheless amusing to watch a woman give head for the first time.

   Holding my cock in her thin, pale fingers, Tatami eyes it with caution and wonder. She lowers her head towards my erection, pauses for a moment as she deliberates whether or not to go through with it, and then, mustering all the courage her thin frame contains, gives Paddy a preliminary lick.

   It has been nearly month since someone last fellatiated me. Not long for most men, I suppose, but long enough to make Paddy stand at stiff attention, as if he’s been defibrillated back to life.

   Tatami flinches and jerks quickly away, worried, I can only guess, that overwhelmed with ecstasy I might ejaculate right then and there. She lowers her head again, my cock twitches. She hesitates. But once she is reassured that I won't spontaneously blow the contents of my viscera all over her face, she takes the head into her mouth and waits again. She hasn't yet figured out that fellatio is something to be performed, not something which is going to just happen all by itself. I guide her head down until she nearly chocks on it, and let her come up gasping. I shove my cock back into her mouth, then guide it in gradually. Only then does she begin to understand that some movement is required.

   She works at it for about thirty minutes, up and down, up and down, and yet never quite getting me to the station on time, always missing the train. After a while, I've had enough. I pull my cock out of her mouth, holster it, and zip up my pants.

   Tatami protests at first, insists on her wanting to make me “feel good”, but I just wave her off. All I want is for her to leave so that I can have some Q.T. with a girlie magazine and the “lascivious hand” and go to bed.

   She lies on the floor at my feet. Her blouse is half open, revealing an elaborate pink brassier. She raises her white, boney arms towards me and beckons me to join her. I’m not interested. When she raises her dress and spreads her legs invitingly, I turn and look out the window into the dark night.

   "Who is the most important person in your life?" she asks from the floor.

   "My sister."

   "And then?"

   I know what she is playing at, so I decide to have a bit of fun. "That's tough,” I say. “Maybe one of my closer friends—André, Dave, Brad, Geoff, Rowland. I don't know."

   "And then?" Disappointment rises in her voice.

   "My brother. Yeah, probably my brother . . ."

   "What about me?" she whines. “What about Tatami?

   From the depths of my generous heart, I reply: “Tatami, don't whine. It drives me up the feckin’ wall."

   "But what about me," she asks again.

   "Look, Tatami, I like you. Like you. I have always liked you, but I have never loved you."

   "Why not?"

   "Why not?" This tickles me up and it is all I can do to restrain myself, to keep from laughing at her.

   "I want to be your girlfriend!"

   "No!"

   "Why? Mie was your girlfriend. Why can't you love me?"

   That simple question threatens to dredge up a wealth of memories and emotions. I don’t really want to get into it. Not with Tatami. She wouldn't understand.

   "Why can't you love me?"

   Why can’t I? Why couldn't I love Yumi? Why couldn't I love Aya or even Reina for that matter? Why couldn't I love any of the women I’ve met over the past seven months? Is my heart no longer capable of love? Was my love only meant for one person, and now that she is gone I am no longer able to love anyone again? I don't want to believe it. I still have faith, however tarnished it may have become, that I will meet someone I can love, but as far as I can tell this woman who is half naked at my feet with her pale arms reaching out for me will never be the one. She will never be the more I have been searching for. She will never be the enough that Philip Roth wrote about in The Professor of Desire. She isn't anything to me but another regret at the end of a long string of regrets. And, all I want from her now is to watch the wiggling of her bony little arse as she pads out the door and down the steps.

   "Why can't you love me?" she asks for the third time.

   "I'm sorry, Tatami, but you're not my type."

   "Hidoi", she whimpers. "You're terrible!"

   A genuine tear collects at the base of her right eye, such a small tear, so cute, so her, that it makes me smile. Whenever Yumi cried, the Self Defense Forces were put on alert, ready with bulldozers to act in case any innocent bystanders got caught up in the relentless flow of gunk that would ran down those heavily concealed cheeks of hers. But Tatami's tear, that solitary tear clinging to the lower edge of her eyelid, grows slowly in size, then rolls like a drop of mercury down her soft white cheek.

   When the tear falls, I giggle at the novelty of it. I've never seen someone cry this way, so controlled. I laugh again, but not out of cruelty, for I don’t mean to be cruel. I laugh at the silliness of life. Sometimes that's all you can do is laugh to help you forget how much pain you’re in.

   Tatami reiterates her low opinion of me, but rather than decide that she is wasting her time, she chooses to try endearing herself to me by lunging for my cock. When that fails, she starts swinging at me, pitiful punches that fail to connect and serve only to frustrate her further. When I wonder aloud if she was taught these tactics at finishing school, she kicks me.

   It is just too much and I start roaring with laughter.

  With great difficulty, I finally manage to push her towards the front door. She kicks and screams, her arms flail about wildly, and then just when I’ve got her halfway out the door, she tells me that she is pregnant.

  "Yeah, right!" I scoff and give her a final push out of the door.

   As I am shutting the door on her, she threatens to quit the school and to tell everyone that I am the father of her child. She threatens to follow me to America.

   It is pathetic and ugly. It is opera, very, very bad opera.

   Realizing that her threats are having little impact, Tatami changes her tone and says, "What would you do if I died?" Tears are now steaming down her cheeks. "What would you do if I died?"

   "Well, for one, I'd probably get to bed sooner."

   "Hidoi!" she screams and runs down the stairs. I can hear her steps grow distant, followed by the angry slam of the gate downstairs.

____________________________________________________________

   The above was edited out of a longer version of my second novel, A Woman's Nails, the first several chapters from which can be read for free here. I am debating whether or not to reintroduce the chapter into the novel. If you have read the novel in its entirety, your imput would be greatly appreciated. 

 

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Woman's Nails is now available on Amazon's Kindle.

Saturday
Oct222011

Hifumi, the Little Diner That Could

   When I first came to Japan I taught at a small privately run English School which only by the grace of God remains in business to this day.

   I taught five to six lessons a day, five days a week, back then and earned about ¥250,000—the minimum wage for that kind of work—minus ¥40,000-plus for rent and utilities.[1] In addition to being my employer, the feckless Mr. “Bakayama” (a nickname I coined for the man meaning “Foolish Mountain”; his real name was Nakayama) was also my landlord, like a two-bit Milton Hersey. As I was F.O.B., fresh-off-the-boat, I didn’t have to pay any income or residence taxes.

   Located in a sleepy corner of Kitakyūshū City, the neighborhood where I worked had a few restaurants and diners that were alright. There was one place that did a pretty good kara’age karii (curry and rice with fried chicken). My two co-workers “Blad” (Bradley) and “Hoka” (Geoffrey) and I would have lunch there after our “teachers meeting” every Wednesday and bitch about Bakayama.

   Lots of good memories. Blad and Hoka would return to the States the following spring and when my contract was up I moved on to Fukuoka.

   I took a job at another small English school called Bell American School. Not a bad operation and a huge improvement over Bakayama’s Little School That Barely Could. Unfortunately, I was the token gaijin (foreigner) at Bell in an office staffed with psychopathic women. (For more on this, go here.)

   I worked six days a week at the new school, but only had two to three classes a day. I also made a bit more, and with all the free time I was able to take on private lessons to supplement my income.[2]

   There were not only more restaurants near my new workplace, but they were much better than those in Kitakyūshū. What’s more, the affluent women I was now teaching were something of gourmands and delighted in taking me to new restaurants.

   I was at Bell for about four years before striking out on my own. Life continued to improve: more money, more freedom, better restaurants. I was now living in Daimyō, an area of Fukuoka City which is said to have more restaurants and bars (and hair salons) per square kilometer than anywhere else in Japan. The money and eats were very, very good.

   Before the Internet became as widely used as it is today, people would call me up to ask what restaurant I recommended, or where such-and-such bar was located. Thanks to smartphones I rarely have to perform this service now. It’s just as well because I seldom go out anymore what with my being the father of a young child (who happens to be in my lap fiddling with the keys as I try to write this).

   Since last spring I have been teaching full-time at a private women’s college.

   The conditions at the college are very good. I teach a mere two to three one-hour classes a day, four days a week, and get paid considerably more for the “work” than I did as part-time instructor with a heavier class load. (Odd, the way that works.) Where I was once a grunt in the Eikaiwa trenches nearly two decades ago I am now a low-ranking commissioned officer of sorts.

   The only drawback of the change in employment, as I have mentioned before, is the fact that the college is located in the heart of a culinary desert. The only eatery that is within a reasonable walking distance is the Hifumi Shokudō (一二三食堂, lit. One, Two, Three Diner), a miserable little place that doesn’t appear to have changed a thing since it opened sometime in the late Shōwa Period (early 80s?).

   Every thing about the place is odd.

   For one, the servings at Hifumi are huge, the kind of servings growing boys fortify themselves with. Trouble is, there isn’t a boy to be seen anywhere near the diner. Come to think of it, in the dozen times I have been to Hifumi, I have yet to see any other customers. Makes you wonder how they have been able to stay in business all this time.

   What's more, most of the time when I pop into Hifumi, I find the place abandoned. Sometimes I can hear the distant sound of a television coming from another room. (Hifumi, like so many of these diners from olden days, is on the first floor of proprietor's home.) I often have to manufacture some racket—move the table about so that it grates against the concrete floor, or throw the sliding door open with a crash—before the goblins working in the Hifumi kitchen stir to life.

   The only item on the menu that I can safely recommend is the “Service Set” (☆☆☆) which includes two chicken cutlets, salad, rice, and soup for the low, low price of ¥450 ($4.50). With such rock-bottom prices, it’s no wonder Hifumi can’t afford to remodel.

   Part of me wants to advise them on how they might bring in some of the four-thousand-odd girls attending the local school, but then Hifumi has managed to survive the two Lost Decades since the end of the Shôwa Period. Perhaps, they know what their doing.

   The Hifumi Fried Rice. ☆

   The Hifumi Omuraisu. Looks as if it's been stabbed. ☆☆

   The Hifumi Chicken Rice ☆☆

 


[1] The exchange rate at the time was about ¥130 to the dollar, so I made roughly $1,900 a month.

[2] With my salary and moonlighting, I was earning about ¥350,000 per month. The yen would rise as high as ¥80 to the dollar in a year’s time, meaning in dollar terms I was making over four grand a month. I was working half as much, yet making double.

Friday
Mar182011

Tenjin Tremblin'

   This is something I wrote for a local magazine five years ago we we had our own earthquake drama:

 

   I thought Fukuoka wasn't supposed to have earthquakes. Tectonic growing pains were other prefecture's problems, not ours. That, of course, was until Palm Sunday's M7.0 tremor.

   I was at a friend's condo in Momochihama when the quake hit, and, faithful to my grade school drilling, ran for cover. Oddly enough, I was the only one to do so. Several minutes later, NHK confirmed both the obvious--it had been huge, the largest in living memory--and the not so obvious--it's epicenter was along a previously unknown fault. I wonder how many other seismic surprises are in store for Japan.

   Once the fear of tsunami had been allayed, I started to head home. Here and there muddy water shot up through the ground, making me question the intelligence of erecting so many high-rises on such freshly reclaimed land. Across the Hii River, both the Sea Hawk Hotel and Yahoo Dome had been evacuated. Thousands milled about nervously, many trying in vain to contact loved ones with their virtually useless cellphones.

   With traffic into town paralyzed, I had little choice but to walk. The nearer I got, the more alarming the damage--cracks in the roads and sidewalks, shards of glass and wall tiles everywhere, and buildings rattled violently at their foundation. Though my building in Daimyo appeared at first to have escaped the worst, I was shocked when I opened the front door.

   Everything was in disarray. Cabinets had been toppled, their contents smashed to bits, and a pond of water was spreading across the floor. After locating the source of the leak--my washer and dryer unit had also fallen over, dislodging the hose from the faucet in the wall--I turned the water off and hurried over to another apartment I had in Kego.

   With massive cracks in the walls, an elevator wrenched free of the upper floors and broken tiles littering the halls, the three-year-old building looked practically uninhabitable. Even if it were, my shaken neighbors were too frightened to return, a good number of them would move out entirely.

   Back in Daimyo, it would be another hour before I could finally get through to my niece who was marooned with her boyfriend outside the Tenjin Bus Center. Aside from the self-evident fact that an earthquake had brought the city to a standstill, the two were clueless. Not speaking Japanese, they were also victims of a dearth of information accessible to them. They were not alone. Apparently, in the hours following the earthquake when accurate information was critical, Love FM was flying the airways on auto-pilot. For a radio station established ostensibly to serve as a reliable lifeline for foreigners, broadcasting canned music during such a crisis is a sobering reminder of how conditional love can be when it's needed.

   Later as I was putting my home in order and taking an inventory of the loss, the battle-ax who had a room below mine came to my door and ordered me to follow her downstairs.

   In her apartment I was greeted a group of humorless old biddies who glared at me. Above their heads was a ceiling that was leaking like a sieve. They wanted to know something that had also been on my mind: was I insured?

   "Yes, yes, of course, I'm insured."

   I had no choice in that matter when I rented the apartment. But, covered for earthquakes? Well, like 85% of Fukuokans I would learn later that afternoon that I wasn't. I should have known better. The insurance business is a not-so distant cousin of the protection racket. Those friendly insurance salesmen peddle confidence and security, but when you try to get them to actually pay up, they become suspiciously self protective. The lucky 15% of people in the city who were indeed covered might expect to recoup a measly five percent of the damage. While I've managed to be philosophical about my own loss, the battle-ax downstairs hasn't been as magnanimous.

   Sleep was out of the question that first night, fitful at best that entire week, thanks to the aftershocks which did a splendid job keeping me sharp. The nausea and migraines influenced by these not so subtle reminders that the earth was indeed alive and kicking made me feel as if I were paddling across the Pacific in a leaky swan boat.

   The next afternoon, an army of police with the media in tow descended upon Daimyo and began cordoning off the streets and evacuating tenants from their buildings. When I asked an officer why, I was politely told to shove off because it was dangerous. Not very helpful. A sign at the entrance of my building issued a dire warning: an unspecified building was threatening to collapse. All tenants were ordered to take refuge at the local elementary school. Not wanting my miserable puss to be broadcast on national TV like those unfortunate residents of Genkai Island, I chose to camp out at a friend's instead until the evacuation order was lifted several days later.

   All in all, I'd say Fukuoka got lucky this time. Inclement weather and timing alone could have made the situation far worse. With a large earthquake along the Kego fault no longer a question of if but when, let's hope that the public and private sector will then use this opportunity to prepare for future catastrophe.

Monday
Feb212011

Iizuka

   In a day or two I'll get around to uploading some photos of Iizuka, Japan, a former coal-mining town in the center of Fukuoka prefecture. 

   The low con-shaped mountain on the left of this picture is a slag heap. The locals call it the Mt. Fuji of Iizuka (I think they're all delusional). Incidentally, if you look up "slag heap" on Wikipedia then go to the Japanese page, you'll find some pictures of Iizuka's famed slag heap.

   I walked around this old pile of rock and dirt the other day and was surprised to discover how large it was--nearly as big around the base as the Great Pyramid of Giza (approx. 1600 m). There's wasn't much to see from up close, unfortunately.
   As I made my way around the mountain, I couldn't help but wonder what remained below ground if all that rock and dirt, plus coal had been dug up. How long will it be before the earth collapses in on itself and swallows up Iizuka like the town of Macondo in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Wednesday
Nov032010

jóie de vivre

Unfortunately, the Japanese have chosen to abandon their charming wooden homes and live instead in soulless concrete boxes like these: