Saturday, September 23, 2006

How can this happen?!!

This is a video of what the house looks like where I live right now. It's an 82-year-old house owned and continuously occupied by the same family who built it in 1924, the year after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 in Tokyo.

I live in one of the three small apartments upstiars. I couldn't get a good shot of the roof because I'd have to trespass on the neighbors property to be able to get back far enough, but this house has one of those traditional, very heavy tile roofs.

Hiroko told me this week that, probably in early November, the house will be cut in half. I'm still in shock! This particular house was built on leased land, and the current owner of the land wishes to build a small apartment building on part of the property where this house sits. My landladies (two elderly Japanese sisters) don't have the approximately $430,000 (U.S.) or 50,000,000 yen to pay the land owner to renew their lease for another 20 years, so they must allow half of the house to be "removed."

I still can't believe it will happen! My room is on the second floor on the left in this movie (the two little windows are my kitchen and bathroom). If you draw a line straight down from the smaller bathroom window, that's the part of the house that will be demolished. The room under me is the very large bedroom/art studio/music room occupied by the sister who owns the house. For Tokyo, it's a huge room, and has a sliding door that opens onto a small garden. Her room, my room, and the garden will soon disappear to accomodate yet another ugly, 2-story apartment building that will leave the remaining house boxed in with no sunshine.

It's totally disgusting that such a thing can happen to two lovely Japanese women who, along with five other siblings, were born and raised in this house.

As for me, I'm only a temporary renter, and yet I feel so sad that the women who have become my friends will suffer such a loss! This really sucks!

I'll keep you posted as the demolition unfolds.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Japan's conservatives get their wish

On September 6th, 38-year-old Princess Kiko of Japan gave birth to a son. It's the first male royal child born in 41 years, and it--at least temporarily--set to rest the growing dilemma about whether or not to allow females to ascend to the throne. In a recent poll, 56 percent of Japanese respondents backed a female monarch. However, while Prime Minister Junichiro Koizume "enthusiastically" backed a proposal allowing women on the throne, his likely successor, the conservative chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, "has said he will not rush to take the proposal forward." My understanding is that the royal family is also opposed to a female monarch and pursuaded Mr. Koizumi to "back off" with his support for the proposal.

In a way, I'm relieved that a son was born--if only to take the pressure off poor Princess Masako , Princess Kiko's sister-in-law, who has been under extreme pressure from the Royal Family to bear a son. Harvard- and Oxford-educated Masako was a career diplomat who reluctantly married into the monarchy and crumbled under the pressure to produce a male heir. In late 2004, Masako was excused from her royal duties and went into seclusion due to what the royal family called her "mental illness."

I guess, even in the 21st century, women still get labeled as "mentally ill" for refusing to obey, acquiesce, or bow to those in power.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

In Memory of September 11, 2001

WARNING: Graphic and disturbing content

Let's Enjoy Sake!

That was the subject line in an email I got from one of my students, Rumiko. She and her husband took me on a sightseeing trip to Yokohama a few months ago, and now she wanted me to join her at a sake-tasting party that was held last night.

While I've tasted sake a few times, I have to admit I wasn't much of a fan. It was "just OK", but I was still interested in going to a "women only" sake party. I enjoyed the wording on the website sponsoring the party: "This is a women's function however only one man accompanied by a female guest(s) could be admitted if she wish."

Apparently three women wished to be accompanied by a man.

The evening started out after work Saturday, and I was already tired because it was the last day of my work week and I had just taught eleven lessons. On top of that, it was so frickin' hot and humid that I thought I was going to boil inside my skin!

Rumiko met me at work and we headed for the train station. We needed to go to Shibuya and transfer to another train that would take us to Shimokitazawa Station. Every station was packed with people and hot as Hell! When we got to Shimokitazawa Station, we had to walk for about 10 minutes to the building where the party was being held. By the time I got there, I looked like something the cat had dragged in! I was soaking wet from head to toe from the heat and humidity. The temperature, I found out later, was around 98 with the humidity factored in.

So, I made a quick restroom stop where I pulled out my wash cloth (always carry a wash cloth in Japan!) and wiped down my face, neck, and arms to cool off and wipe away the sweat. When I felt that I was minimally presentable, we hit the elevator and went up to the twelfth floor where we were the first to arrive and only had to pay 2500 yen instead of the usual 3500 yen.

The room was set up with three very large, round tables dressed in white linen tablecloths over pink linen cloths. There was another table set up with a nice array of Japanese food, but unforunately I forgot to take pictures! Argh!

Once everyone (about 30 people) had arrived, the tasting began. There were ten different types of sake to be tasted, and I wondered if I would make it through the entire tasting without falling flat on my face! We were given the traditional bamboo sake cups (to keep as souvenirs) and after each round, we were instructed to wipe out the cup with a napkin to get it ready for the next tasting. It took about two hours to taste all ten sakes (is that a word?). After each tasting, Rumiko and I discussed the qualities and then scored the sake. After a few tastings, the shy Japanese women at our table joined in to express their opinions too. Their English was quite good!

Somehow, I managed to make it through all ten tastings without even getting a "buzz!" I think the food helped, and the tastings were very small--maybe a tablespoon or so each.

I was amazed at all the different sake tastes. Like wine, there are mary variations of sweetness and dryness. Some go down smoothly, and others burn all the way down. My favorite was the first one, and I have no idea what it's called in English, but it was smooth and delicious. With each tasting the MC explained how that particular sake was made, what percentage of rice, how long it fermented, etc. I remember one that she said had been set in snow for 180 days which made my mind do some weird things--imagining bottles of sake all in a row, stuck up to their necks in snow! Maybe it was the effect of drinking several shots of sake. . .and also wondering how nice it woud feel this time of year to be stuck up to my neck in snow!

These were my three favorites, in order:

No. 1
This was soooo delicious and smooth all the way down! It was an exceptionally nice, dry sake. Perfect!

No. 2
This sake was also very smooth with just a tad of sweetness. It would taste wonderful with any Japanese food, or nice with snacks.

No. 3
This was a very, very mild-flavored sake. Rumiko said it tasted like water, but I liked it. It would be perfect for sipping ice-cold on a hot day with some light food.

At the end of the party, the winning sake was announced. It was this one, but Rumiko and I didn't care for it at all! I thought it tasted like fire water!

Then we were invited to have free sake cocktails! I didn't know cocktails could be made with sake! I had no idea what to order so just asked the evening's hostess/bartender (who was a great MC!) to fix me whatever she liked. She did an amazing job of combining sake, strawberry liquer, and litchee liquer, shook it over ice, and poured out a beautiful pink, viscous-y drink in a tiny martini-shaped glass. It reminded me of a Cosmopolitan. Yum yum! Rumiko chose a sake/kahlua combination served in a tiny glass shaped like a beer mug.

Soon after that, the party ended and we began our trek home around 10pm. While I had hoped it would have cooled down a little by then, it really hadn't because the humidity had climbed even higher. By the time I got home, it was nearly 11pm and I was exhausted and sweaty again! Couldn't wait to hit the shower and go to bed! I'm such a wuss!

The party was fun, though, and I always enjoy Rumiko's company. Maybe we can go to another tasting party when the weather cools down.

No memory

Well, actually that headline should be "no memory cards" but I have to admit that my own memory isn't so great either. Seems that I forgot my digital camera memory cards in Las Vegas, so those of you who have been waiting for more pictures of my trip will have to wait a little while longer. They should arrive by mail in the next week, I hope, and then I can post more pictures of my month-long trip to the U.S.

Stay posted.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Over the years, I've become quite fascinated with the superior intelligence of crows. Most people seem to hate them, but I think they're a joy to observe. For instance, one time, while driving down a winding country road, I saw what looked like a million crows on the narrow two-lane road ahead. I slowed down to see what had attracted them. As I approached closer, I saw that the crows were standing in absolute silence on both sides of the road, peering into the middle of the lane where one of their own had been killed, most likely by a car. It looked exactly like a funeral procession! I think the crows had lined up to witness the death and give an official send-off to their fallen comrade! Perhaps it was a crow with special status in their group. Who knows for sure? At any rate, it was amazing to watch and I felt a sense of sorrow as they stood in perfect silence.

Here's another example of crow inteligence, although it might seem a little risky to the casual observer!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Telling it like it is

Keith Olbermann is truly a man of great courage and should be applauded for his willingness to stand up to this administration, and to Rumsfield in particular. Equating dissent about the war in Iraq with "moral confusion" is sheer lunacy and Rumsfield should be relieved of his duties immediately.