That will keep, though. Let me bring my Japanese adventure to a brief conclusion.
By my third day in Kanazawa, I was a bit fed up at not feeling well enough to take advantage (or at least enjoyment) of all the interesting things on offer. As I mentioned in my last entry, Kanazawa has really thrown everything into being a tourist-friendly city, and one side effect is that, much more than in Tokyo itself, I often had shopkeepers waiters, etc. talk to me in English, despite my best efforts to talk to them in Japanese. Often I went with the flow, but on Monday something in me snapped. Seeking a small amount of food and a large amount of cool air, I went into a restaurant that had its menu in both English and Japanese, and having said "Hitori desu" (in context, "Table for one") was led to table by a waitress who insisted on repeating that back to me in English, as if (being a gaijin) I might not understand the Japanese I had myself spoken. I don't know why, but I felt a miffed by this, so when she came to take my order I made a point of reading it in Japanese, kanji and all - only to have it translated into English for my benefit again. A little later, I asked a different waiter for a water refill ("Sumimasen, omizu wo okawari oneigaishimasu!"), to which he replied, as if explaining a grown-up concept to a two-year-old, "Water."
I knew I was being a bit ridiculous, but it was beginning to feel like some kind of weird mind game. Eventually, not quite having been able to finish the food, I called yet a third waiter over, and said in Japanese that, although the food had been delicious, my appetite had recently been suppressed due to the heat and that I was therefore unable to eat it all. At last, this un-phrase-bookable little speech turned a key, and a suitable reply in Japanese was my reward, topped with the customary compliment on my linguistic skill (which, admittedly you get in many places if you manage to say "arigatou", but in this case felt like a crown of bays).
Vindicated, I set about paying my bill - but so dizzy was I with the twin draughts of heat and victory that I put down the wrong amount of money, and of course as soon as I got to the till all my good work was undone, as the woman kindly explained in English that "We need TEN more. TEN". In vain did I protest that my maths rather than my Japanese was at fault. In fact I was so flustered that didn't register the glass door at the entrance as I left, clattering into it and leaving an unsightly splodge of gaijin sweat at the level of my face - for which I apologised in good Japanese, I think, but by then that was no longer the point.
I hasten to add that this humiliating encounter was not typical. In fact, I had a recuperative episode an hour or so later in a small souvenir shop run by a very old, very small woman (she was 95, in fact, as she repeatedly informed me, deaf in one ear and blind in one eye). She told me all about her life - no nonsense about English here! And, to be fair, I've had a lot of interesting conversations in various places, usually with the owners of businesses where I was the only customer. I think of the bar in Nishiogikubo, learning (over a light tuna meal) why the owner threw it all up to become a whisky specialist; or the bar in Takayama where I drank iced coffee while the owner told me all about his motorbike obsession, which had taken him across Europe (Germany - land of beautiful cities and gentlemen - was his favourite, France - where people are "ijiwaru" - not so much, but for bike engines you can't beat Italy, apparently). On the whole, I think I've done okay, language-wise.
On Tuesday I caught a shinkansen from Kanazawa to Toyama, whence I rode a mountain train up, up into the mountains, past rivers, bridges, coniferous forests, dams, more bridges, etc. It was very beautiful, but I was happy to let the landscape slide by without photographing it. After all, most of Japan looks like this - trees and mountains, mountains and trees. The people live in the gaps in between.
My destination was the small town of Takayama, where I was booked in to a ryokan for a couple of nights. My appetite and energy still weren't back to normal (on returning to England I found that I had lost half a stone over the course of the month), and far from being treated to wafting mountain breezes, as had been my hope, the temperature in Takayama was still around 33 centigrade. Nevertheless, I really liked Takayama, not least because of its many rivers and streams, which criss-crossed the town in a way that made me feel quite at home (although probably no one else would have been reminded of Romsey). Anyway, here are a couple of boys looking at the carp in the river. I'm rather proud of this photograph!
As well as rivers, Takayama was replete with many old (i.e. wooden) Japanese style streets, most of which sold either sake, hida beef, or sarubobo. What's a sarubobo? Why, it's the mascot of the town, as far as I could make out, which exists in the form of baby monkey with (generally) a blank red face - although Hello Kitty versions also exist - and is meant to be a good luck charm.
The other big thing in the Takayama is the twice-yearly festival, which takes place in spring and autumn, and involves a number of ancient festival floats. Of course, I was there at the wrong time of year, but I did visit the shed where they are kept (I was almost the only visitor), where I listened to an English guide that was almost inaudible, though I forgave it for the honesty of the notice taped to its side:
The floats were interesting, though:
My last first in Takayama was entering a shared bath, something I'd not been in a position to do on my previous visits to Japan. There are many Youtube videos detailing the proper etiquette, and I was a bit nervous about committing some faux pas, but it seemed to pass off okay - at least, people were too polite to upbraid me if I did get it wrong...
Don't know what they're doing
But they laugh a lot
Behind the pink door
I won't bore you with my uneventful trip back to Tokyo, or the pleasant last meal I had with Miho, Mikako and Hiroshii, or even my overnight stay at the Hotel Sunroute, Higashi Shinjuku. By that time I was in travel mode, and all my efforts were concentrated on making a month's worth of Stuff fit into my two cases. Instead, I will leave you with the following cheery message, which I saw in a Takayama toilet. In Japanese, it reminds people to take their rubbish away with them, but its message to foreigners is far more welcoming:
Yes, Japan, I will keep bringing my trash! Hopefully I can bring some as soon as next year, but that depends on events still hidden in the mists of futurity...
This time I don't think the demise of the old one is my fault - the battery was behaving weirdly on Sunday, and then yesterday at 40% power it went zoooop and wouldn't turn on again. It's still in warranty, so is being shipped back to Lenovo. In the meantime I still have work to do, so bought an itsy-bitsy teeny weenie Lenovo YogaBook, which is proving very difficult to type with (keyless keypad!) but otherwise seems like a Friend.
Naturally I hadn't made a recent file backup on the old computer, but I'm fairly sure the HD will be okay, and all my work stuff is on dropbox.
Recently Finished: Backdated reviews from the UK trip, as follows
The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Apparently I was on a roll with 'accidentally reading book two before book one of a series'. I liked this one! Although without the context of book 1 I had some trouble figuring out WHY a slum-born swindler was a competent secretary, I liked it a lot. I liked that the give-and-take came from both directions (Georgie's decision to read up on electricity was a nice touch), and I'm a fan of the cast of supporting characters - Lawrence's female inventions buddy especially.
The Soldier's Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I liked this one a lot less than The Lawrence Browne Affair. It just seemed... meh. Meh in world-building, and in character-building. I think there's only so many 'scoundrel goes straight for love' romances one can read in a row, and I was coming to Cat Sebastian off the back of KJ Charles' An Unnatural Vice.
Mother of Souls by Heather Rose Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was *interesting*. This book is definitely marking a genre-stamp for the series, moving it more firmly into historical-fantasy and away from romance. Which, given I was getting sick of neatly parcelled romance novels, is a good thing to me. I enjoyed both of the new lead women characters, and the returning ensemble cast. It was particularly rewarding to see Anna the apprentice develop more as a character. The test to Margerit's worldview & philosophy of the mysteries via Serafina was great, as was the increase in ensemble cast diversity.
I'm just a bit surprised - I thought this was 3 in a trilogy, but it's clearly not a final-in-the-series book. This is, overall, a GOOD surprise. I have high hopes! Especially for Margerit's niece - I devoutly hope she's our next heroine.
Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've never read any Du Maurier, and I'm told this is atypical - the only one of her works she claimed as a romance at all. It was a bit weird to read, like, say, if you'd read LOTR *after* reading Raymond E Feist. Suddenly I could see all these influences on the queer histrom I've been reading - not only faithfully adapted elements but *deliberately departed from* ones. Like. If this was written by one of the m/m histrom crowd now, there would be a *lot* deeper interrogation of the class issues in the novel. (Class here is used primarily as a _uniting_ factor, something to bring its heroine together with her Manic Pixie Pirate Baron, and not really interrogated at all.) Fisherman's Creek is definitely better literature, but less self-aware.
Good things: it's not in the slightest HEA. Which I liked - I was surfeited on HEA by the time I got to this one, and I can't see how a HEA would have *worked* here (unless you rewrote it as m/m. In which case they run away to sea together).
Also, Our Hero is a Manic Pixie Pirate Baron. That part seemed fairly self-aware: burned out woman gets to meet an inspiring rebel who Changes Her Life and recharges her to go back to her real world, much as has happened to dudes in literature forever.
To review later: Georgette Heyer, Tanya Huff, a book about beds, the latest Archer magazine issue, and LM Montgomery's autobiography.
Up Next: I need to attack Carolyne Larrington's 'Brothers and Sisters in Medieval Literature'
Music notes: well I saw Midnight Oil, asyouknowBob. And I bought Alan Doyle's first solo album, Boy on Bridge. Today I noticed that the song 'Testify', which sounds like country-gospel, is actually a song about a dude escaping prison by staging a river immersion baptism. This pleases me.
- yesterday I spent 200 chf on a handbag. It's a very nice, very understated handbag made of good leather, so probably worth it. (There was a Fossil bag I liked, on sale, considerably cheaper, but it had suede panels and was probably more fashion-dependent.) Friend R went shopping with me, and I think I disappointed her: I did not want sparkles, or colour blocks, or quilt effects, or tassels, and most things with gold embellishments I thought were too overdone (for me: underdone for R, I'm sure). I kept gravitating to bags she described as 'my aunt has one like that'. Basically I wanted something considerably smaller than my satchel, that I can wear with a dress, and that won't draw much attention (so I can carry it with ANY dress. Or with a more masc outfit if I so choose).
- We then went prowling through the makeup section. I learned a lot of terrifying things about makeup. Again, a bit weird, because I'm attracted to makeup as a THING, but evidence proves I don't bother wearing it. R kept being like 'this would look good on you'. Well, yes. Except I wouldn't wear it. I bought some single-use face masque sheets from Sephora, though, and that turns out to be quite rewarding. I haven't had a good masque since I stopped buying clinque (the Sukin mud one may or may not have been good for my skin, but it didn't feel like anything on and was therefore a disappointment).
There have been some Girlfriend Situations in the past week that have varied from bloody brilliant (gosh I'm looking forward to seeing her!) to anxiety-hamster to quietly worrying.
2. Midnight Oil concert was totally worth it. The anxiety I worked myself up into in advance of going to Paléo was not, really. There *were* big crowds coming in by 8, 9 pm - but not at 5pm for the opening gigs! It was super chill when I got there. I ended up leaving at about 8.15 - I'd moved on to a smaller stage featuring tiny british boys known as Temples, but the mix of cigarette smoke and pot in the air was making my eyes stream and my head hurt. I feel a bit... a bit useless because I went to a thing and LEFT as everyone else was arriving. But actually, who cares? I saw what I wanted.
2.i. I have to say though, some of the tracks off Diesel and Dust which if you think about them too hard are Not Cool, well. They are really uncomfortable when you're all standing on European soil. the Dead Heart, particularly: it's pretty close to musical blackface to begin with, and the cultural dislocation just makes it more obvious.
2.ii. Garrett chose to do his contextualising around 'imagine if the French government had got their act together and had made it to the east coast of Aus before the British, I'd be singing all this in French'. Which. Okay. He didn't try to suggest this would be better, or worse, colonialism-wise, but I was still not happy with the way it felt. And at some point he referenced 'our dear first peoples, the indigenous australians', and just. Nope. How patronising can you GET?
3.iii Rob Hirst remains crazy talented oh my goodness. I somehow forget to notice the complexity of the percussion if I'm just listening, but as soon as you see him in action: wow. Also, the percussion kit included an honest-to-goodness rusty corrugated iron water tank, which I can only assume they physically transported from Aus for use during 'Power and the Passion'. Hell yes.
3. I started making a weekly habit tracker thing. Like a sticker chart for kids - you set a number of chores or self-care activities and colour in when they're done. I think I've set 49 possible things over a week, but not all of them are daily so I have targets. If i met every target I'd be at 41 things; so far I'm rewarding myself if I get to 25. And it's... working? The first few weeks I had days with only one or two squares; now normal is 3 or 4.
And on that note I'd better go and address today's tasks, starting with 'walk to work' (i missed 'get up by 8')
This is other half's favourite McGonagall poem :o)
The Funeral of the German Emperor
YE sons of Germany, your noble Emperor William now is dead.
Who oft great armies to battle hath led;
He was a man beloved by his subjects all,
Because he never tried them to enthral.
The people of Germany have cause now to mourn,
The loss of their hero, who to them will ne’er return;
But his soul I hope to Heaven has fled away,
To the realms of endless bliss for ever and aye.
He was much respected throughout Europe by the high and the low,
And all over Germany people’s hearts are full of woe;
For in the battlefield he was a hero bold,
Nevertheless, a lover of peace, to his credit be it told.
’Twas in the year of 1888, and on March the 16th day,
That the peaceful William’s remains were conveyed away
To the royal mausoleum of Charlottenburg, their last resting-place,
The God-fearing man that never did his country disgrace.
The funeral service was conducted in the cathedral by the court chaplain, Dr. Kogel,
Which touched the hearts of his hearers, as from his lips it fell,
And in conclusion he recited the Lord’s Prayer
In the presence of kings, princes, dukes, and counts assembled there.
And at the end of the service the infantry outside fired volley after volley,
While the people inside the cathedral felt melancholy,
As the sound of the musketry smote upon the ear,
In honour of the illustrous William. whom they loved most dear.
Then there was a solemn pause as the kings and princes took their places,
Whilst the hot tears are trickling down their faces,
And the mourners from shedding tears couldn’t refrain;
And in respect of the good man, above the gateway glared a bituminous flame.
Then the coffin was placed on the funeral car,
By the kings and princes that came from afar;
And the Crown Prince William heads the procession alone,
While behind him are the four heirs-apparent to the throne.
Then followed the three Kings of Saxony, and the King of the Belgians also,
Together with the Prince of Wales, with their hearts full of woe,
Besides the Prince of Naples and Prince Rudolph of Austria were there,
Also the Czarevitch, and other princes in their order I do declare.
And as the procession passes the palace the blinds are drawn completely,
And every house is half hidden with the sable drapery;
And along the line of march expansive arches were erected,
While the spectators standing by seemed very dejected.
And through the Central Avenue, to make the decorations complete,
There were pedestals erected, rising fourteen to fifteen feet,
And at the foot and top of each pedestal were hung decorations of green bay,
Also beautiful wreaths and evergreen festoons all in grand array.
And there were torches fastened on pieces of wood stuck in the ground;
And as the people gazed on the weird-like scene, their silence was profound;
And the shopkeepers closed their shops, and hotel-keepers closed in the doorways,
And with torchlight and gaslight, Berlin for once was all ablaze.
The authorities of Berlin in honour of the Emperor considered it no sin,
To decorate with crape the beautiful city of Berlin;
Therefore Berlin I declare was a city of crape,
Because few buildings crape decoration did escape.
First in the procession was the Emperor’s bodyguard,
And his great love for them nothing could it retard;
Then followed a squadron of the hussars with their band,
Playing “Jesus, Thou my Comfort,” most solemn and grand.
And to see the procession passing the sightseers tried their best,
Especially when the cavalry hove in sight, riding four abreast;
Men and officers with their swords drawn, a magnificent sight to see
In the dim sun’s rays, their burnished swords glinting dimly.
Then followed the footguards with slow and solemn tread,
Playing the “Dead March in Saul,” most appropriate for the dead;
And behind them followed the artillery, with four guns abreast,
Also the ministers and court officials dressed in their best.
The whole distance to the grave was covered over with laurel and bay,
So that the body should be borne along smoothly all the way;
And the thousands of banners in the procession were beautiful to view,
Because they were composed of cream-coloured silk and light blue.
There were thousands of thousands of men and women gathered there,
And standing ankle deep in snow, and seemingly didn’t care
So as they got a glimpse of the funeral car,
Especially the poor souls that came from afar.
And when the funeral car appeared there was a general hush,
And the spectators in their anxiety to see began to crush;
And when they saw the funeral car by the Emperor’s charger led,
Every hat and cap was lifted reverently from off each head.
And as the procession moved on to the royal mausoleum,
The spectators remained bareheaded and seemingly quite dumb;
And as the coffin was borne into its last resting-place,
Sorrow seemed depicted in each one’s face.
And after the burial service the mourners took a last farewell
Of the noble-hearted William they loved so well;
Then rich and poor dispersed quietly that were assembled there,
While two batteries of field-guns fired a salute which did rend the air
In honour of the immortal hero they loved so dear,
The founder of the Fatherland Germany, that he did revere.
The yurei and obake of Tonjo ignored me, happily, but I felt that fever took me pretty close to "Pitable Foreigner" status, had I not been able to pull out of the dive for my last evening in Tokyo, merely scraping the tops of trees and getting bits of bird's nest in my cleavage.
I was particularly glad, because this was the day that Satomi, her mother and her friend Chiaki (who as luck would have it works in a kimono shop) were coming to do yukata-related things with me. Our original plan had been ambitious - to go to Kanda shrine and watch rakugo. Gradually, though, with the temperature being in the mid-30s, this was reduced to eating some nice desserts at my flat, then walking elegantly around the grounds of Tonjo drawing admiring glances from all who beheld us. Anyway, here are some of my favourite pics from the occasion. There are quite a few, but feel free to scroll past:
Obi Wonky Maybe?
Of course, I only included that last photo so that I could use the caption.
Then it was on to Miho's place in Nakano, where my appetite returned on cue, and I had a wonderful meal cooked by her husband Hiroshi, a fine chef as I remember from last year. (Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling well himself, for much the same reasons as me before, and had to retire early.) Satoshi Kitamura, whom I'd met at the Mexican embassy, was another guest at supper, and we had a very good talk about the varying degrees of (in)directness one might expect in different cultures, which issued in the following Buzzfeedish joint declaration (apologies for the national stereotyping, but sake is no friend to fine distinctions):
If an American thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a bad idea."
If an English person thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a very brave suggestion."
If a Japanese person thinks its a bad idea, they'll say, "The weather's been hot, recently, hasn't it?"
We had drunk quite a bit of sake by that time. Afterwards we walked fifty yards to the local festival, the other reason for being yukata-clad. It's a small affair but a popular and traditional one: Miho reminisced how the sound of the festival music used to excite her when she was at primary school (she's a little older than me), and she'd run home to change, ready to dance. As is typical in such affairs - not that I'd seen one before in real life - a temporary tower had been built in the centre of an open space, with a small stage surrounding it. At the top, a taiko drummer accompanied a set of maybe half a dozen tunes (each of which had a different dance associated with it), which were basically played in rotation throughout the evening, and from the tower strings of lanterns radiated like filaments from a web. There were various food and drink stalls (though not goldfish scooping, sadly!) around the edge of the area. Some people were watching, some were dancing - the dance involving (whatever the tune) a slow, anti-clockwise circuit of the tower, done in conjunction with various combinations of arm gestures, claps, turns, and forward and backward steps. Not too hard to learn, if you've had enough sake, and I followed Miho and gave it a go. I am no dancer in any idiom, but I remembered the lyrics of the Awa Bon Odori:
The dancers are fools
The watchers are fools
Both are fools alike so
Why not dance?
This has been my motto throughout the trip, and to be honest it's not such a bad one for life.
If you want a flavour of the sound and movement of the thing, please click through to the video below:
That marked the end of my Tokyo stay, and the next morning I boarded the shinkansen to Kanazawa in the west of the country, a town famed for fresh seafood, for the garden of Kenrokuen, and for putting gold leaf on so many things that it would make a rapper blush.
The first thing that fascinated me, though (because I am a Big Kid) was the fountain at the station, which was also at times a digital clock. Cool! (I'm sure they have these kinds of things elsewhere too, but I've not seen one.) The station itself is pretty impressive. This huge structure at its entrance seems new, and I suspect may have been erected to celebrate the arrival of the shinkansen line from Tokyo a couple of years ago, after which Kanazawa put itself on a no-holds-barred tourist footing.
I'd put myself up at an air BnB for three nights in Kanazawa, to justify two nights at a proper ryokan in Takayama afterwards. It was my first Air BnB experience, and while it was nothing special nor was the price I paid for it. The room was pretty bare, but everything promised was present, and at least I had this as the view from my window:
I have to say that, throughout the next few days, my energy and appetite, briefly resurgent for the Nakano matsuri, went back into abeyance, so I don't think I was able to do Kanazawa justice. However, I did put the miles in! First stop was the impressive fish market (which looked delicious but prompted no appetite in me at all, alas), followed by the castle park. Of course, no one knows whether samurai armour was originally modelled on the appearance of Japanese castles, or the other way round. What is certain is that in the feudal period, once two castles spotted each other they were apt to convert (much like the Transformers of our own day) into mechanised fighting machines of ferocious violence and battle it out until one of them was a flaming heap (which was then officially blamed on earthquakes). The sight so disconcerted the shogun that he ordered that castles should never be built within 4 ri of each other, an ordinance still in place today.
Actually, that may have been the fever writing. Interesting as Kanazawa Castle may be, it's actually less famous than the adjoining garden, Kenrokuen - so called because it's a park (en) containing six (roku) features (ken) thought notable - although I'm not sure which six they had in mind. I saw a lot more, personally. Even for someone with low energy levels it was a very pleasant place to walk around, and oddly reminiscent (in its penchant for sudden prospects, islands with "fake" temples, sinuous walks, water features, and commitment to "nature methodised"), to the kind of thing that was being done in English landscape gardening over the same period. (I wish I had the knowledge and vocabulary to expatiate on this.)
Naturally, after wandering in the heat for a while, you want something to help you cool down. As I mentioned earlier, putting gold leaf in, or on, pretty much everything is a Kanazawa speciality. Want yourself a gold-leaf face mask? We've got you covered. Sweets or soap or sake with bits of gold leaf inside? Of course. Actually, why not just buy yourself an ice cream cornet covered in a single sheet of gold leaf?
Oh, okay then.
Midnight Oil are playing on the main stage at 6. I was SUPER EXCITE when I bought the tickets (obviously, since I bought them) but now, in face of the prospect of travel, crowds, etc, I am less excite. I don't think I'll regret it, though.
Arcade Fire are on the main stage later tonight; I'm not sure that I'll stick around for that, though.
Saturday we marched up the road to the Rheged centre (me: oh, this are must have been part of Rheged! L: no, Rheged is a welsh place name, there was this king, Urien Rheged... me: let me tell you a thing about the fifth and sixth centuries) and took a bus down to Keswick, in the Lake District. It was very beautiful, we walked around Derwent Water, many sheep much scenery very wow (photos forthcoming see speculumannorum).
However, before setting off on the scenic part of the expedition we went to A PENCIL MUSEUM. And learned about the history of pencils. I'm not sure it was quite worth the 5 pound entry (it would've if we'd had kids with us: there was a whole room of colouring-in play space), but it was pretty awesome. Special points to the display on the Cumberland Map and Compass Pencil, produced at the behest of Charles Fraser Smith, the British govt's secret gadgets-commissioner for WWII.
I do so love weirdly specific museums.
Thing I learned: Alan Doyle's current touring band, the Alan Doyle Trio (not the Beautiful Gypsies, good news on the not-having-a-racist-band-name front) were touring with the Barenaked Ladies in April. And my fave track from the 2015 album was co-written with the lead dude from BNL. (Who is also getting round and old lookin' and that hasn't decreased my attraction to him either, sigh.)
Also the attractive lady with the violin is Kendall Carson.
The video for Summer Summer Night was released yesterday and I'm not impressed. They seem to have decided that Alan is too old to front a scene about dreamy summer beach parties, which, OKAY, but I am not interested in desaturated slomo shots of blandly attractive young people dancing. At the expense of shots of Alan and his ridiculous face and/or Kendall Carson and her... everything.
So I'm watching this live video instead.
NEVER FEAR. Today I woke up to news of:
A: SECRET KIWI IN THE SENATE
B: Turnbull's plans to override the laws of mathematics.
I'm not sure what's best about item A: that Scott Ludlam has been an illegitimate senator all this time, or that he DIDN'T REALISE HE WAS A KIWI. He 'didn't realise citizenship followed you like that'. You're a SENATOR, sir.* How many immigration debates have you slept through?
Item B is pure gold and the best motivation I have ever heard for subscribing to a VPN service. Declare your allegiance to the laws of mathematics!
* Wait, no you're not. You've never actually been a Senator. You've just been... in the Senate. A secret Kiwi in the senate.
From what I could make out through the dark glass of linguistic ignorance it was a good event, with some interesting stats, such as this one showing the huge imbalance between languages that have been translated into Japanese for children's books. (The columns represent English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.)
At dinner afterwards I happened to find myself next to Diana Wynne Jones's Japanese publisher, which made for a very stimulating conversation, particularly about titles. (Not only that, the following day I talked with DWJ's Japanese translator about the same subject.)
The 7th July is, as any fule kno, the festival of Tanabata. (Long story short, there were once two stars - let us call them Will and Lyra - who fell in love but were separated, and destined to be able to be with each other only for one day each year, this being that day: it has thus become a festival for lovers particularly.) This was to be a) my first festival in Japan and b) my first opportunity to wear my yukata. My friends Yoshiko and Hiroko had agreed to come with me, and indeed Yoshiko pointed out that her university was holding a Tanabata event, which included a free yukata-dressing service (even Japanese people don't find these things so easy!). Of course, I gratefully took up the offer, and so it was that I found myself on the 8th floor of Taisho University, in a room full of people being yukata'd up, having their hair put right, and so on, under the expert tuition of a group of (it seemed) professionals, two of whom immediately set their sights on me.
I don't suppose there can be any of us who hasn't fantasised at one time or another about being taken in hand by a pair of no-nonsense, Japanese ladies of middle age, and tucked, trimmed and twirled like a kokeshi doll, but I never thought it likely to happen in real life. After emerging from this experience I was passed on to a student to have my hair plaited and my decorative flower attached. The whole thing took, maybe, twenty minutes, and this was the result:
Silk purses and sow's ears, and all that - I think they did a very good job with the material available.
Before the festival, a few of us slipped out for a meal of sake, raw fish and yakitori (yes there were also vegetables - but no, they were not boiled sprouts). In amongst the rest were a first for me, whale sashimi - something I was a little leery of for a number of reasons; but in a "When in Rome, everything comes with garum" spirit I gave it a go. I've got to say, it was really good! And - well, of course this shouldn't be surprising - far closer to beef than to tuna. (My mother has often mentioned the "Whale Steaks" served during wartime austerity as among the worst foods she's ever tasted, but I rather suspect they didn't know the best way to cook them at the Lyons Corner House, let alone prepare them as sashimi.)
The Tanabata celebration we went to afterwards took place at a local shrine - as you can see, it's a colourful event. We each wrote our prayers (mine in Japanese probably illegible to any but divine beings), and hung them with the rest, and shuffled off to bed (as you do in geta).
The following day was the day of my lecture at the International Children's Library in Ueno, which is the children's section of the National Diet Library, the equivalent of the British Library. They sent a taxi to take me all the way from Tonjo to Ueno, about an hour's drive through central Tokyo. I was once again amazed at the decor of Japanese taxis, with their white crocheted (or tatted?) antimacassars, seemingly the product of a cottage industry run by a secret society of international, time-travelling Victorians. (I didn't take a photograph, but try this one for size.) The white gloves worn by the driver didn't faze me, for white gloves are to be seen in so many places in Japan, most obviously since I've been here by the people inside the election vans that drove though Tokyo in the run-up to the recent elections. Apparently the message on the loudspeaker was simply saying, in effect, "Vote for me!", but inside half a dozen white-gloved people (from a distance I suppose only their hands were visible) were smiling and waving, to add a human touch to what could otherwise come across as a rather hectoring message. Once, I was walking up a small side street when one of these vans passed me and a young woman hung out of the side of it, smiling and waving, and I admit that I was struck by her sincerity and, by extension, the economic soundness of the policies advocated by her party's representative. Still, "投票できない" I sadly informed her.
The library is a rather splendid building, and I was given a tour of it, the most exciting bit naturally being those parts the public doesn't get to see, namely the basement vaults, where you have walk across a very large fly-paper to get the dust off your shoes before you can enter. "We keep this at a constant temperature of 22 degrees," Ms Nakajima, my guide, informed me, "to preserve the books." I actually felt it to be a little cool for comfort, and congratulated my body on its ability to acclimatise. But, those whom the gods wish to destroy they first persuade that 22 degrees is a bit nippy, as I would later have cause to remember...
Ms Nakajima went on to tell me that they didn't keep manga - including things like Shounen Jump - at this branch of the library, but at the main branch in Nagacho, because manga wasn't thought of as essentially children's literature. However, they did have magazines for children and teenagers. Wondering exactly what this distinction amounted to, I took a volume at random from the shelf - a pink affair with the words "My Boy" written in English on the front and a picture of a rather beautiful young man. In fact, there seemed to be rather a lot of beautiful young men in evidence, and the volume fell open at a page at which one was depicted (in some detail) giving another oral sex. I'm still trying to get my head around a cataloguing system that classes this under children's literature but excludes One Piece. (According to Wikipedia, in 2009 62.9% of Shounen Jump readers were under the age of fourteen, just as a data point.) But all cataloguing systems have inherent contradictions, because the world's a contradictory place, as I have argued elsewhere...
My Boy was of course a work for fujoshi - mostly straight females who enjoy reading about male-male sex. Has anyone ever done a comparison between that demographic and the slash fiction phenomenon in the West? Probably - but if not, they should.
The lecture went well - and afterwards they sent me some pictures, in most of which I'm grimacing like Theresa May, but here's one that I feel sums up the actual spirit of the event far better, although you wouldn't get that there was quite a large audience. To my left sits Professor Hishida, who was acting as my interpreter:
I got the taxi back, feeling strangely tired, but I put that down to nerves (not that I'd felt nervous, but perhaps my body knew better?), and stopped off at the little restaurant next to Tonjo called Paper Ban - odd name, but there you are - and ate a curry and rice topped with grilled cheese, a surprisingly satisfying combination. Then I went to bed at 9pm, feeling very tired....
... and slept feverishly for the next 12 hours.
At first, of course, I blamed the mosquitoes. Could it be malaria? Did it call for a G&T? But Dr Google said no, Japanese mosquitoes are malaria-free - so I tried to cure myself of hypochondria by rereading the first chapter of Three Men on a Boat, a worthwhile experience at any time, and reconciled myself to the fact that it was probably the heat, and constant mixing of heat with air-conditioned cold - the same thing that triggered my previous fever, four years ago in Boston (in the UK I never seem to be ill).
Anyway, I've been living with that fever for the last few days. It tends to hit in the evening (it's due just around now, in fact), sends me shivery, coughing and sans appetite to an early bed, and then releases me in the small hours, a little spacey and weak, but able to do some basic things. On Sunday, for example I was able make it to Kagurazaka for a lunch date with my internet friend Yuki (she's the one in the middle), though my appetite wasn't great:
And on Monday for a lunch date with my other internet friend Yuka in Shibuya (I also have friends called Yako and Yoko, in case you're wondering). She'd come from Kobe specially, so I could hardly cancel - besides, I was really pleased to see her.
And on Tuesday Miho's class came to my flat for tea, after a Q&A session:
Me and my Crew
But I was not at my best for any of these events. And I had to cancel Tomoko, and decline invitations from Akira, Yasuko and Chie...
Yesterday I spent more quietly still, venturing only a short air-conditioned bus-ride to the cinema to watch the first film from Studio Ponoc, Mary and the Witch's Flower. If you haven't heard of Studio Ponoc it's run by a lot of ex-Ghibli staffers, and the director of this film is the Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also directled Arrietty and When Marnie was There.
Since this film too was based on an English children's book, Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick (1971), I was curious to see what he'd done with the source material - especially since, compared with The Borrowers and When Marnie was There, the source is pretty slight. I was feeling quite good, though on the bus-ride I ran through the Crispin's day speech in my head and found my cheek wet with tears, which wasn't a good sign (though to be fair I'm easily moved to tears and that speech is a blinder).
I'd seen from the trailers that Mary and the Witch's Flower appeared to be set in England, which is what made it especially intriguing to me, the other two stories having been transposed to Japan. And it was indeed set there, although this is never mentioned. Even more specifically, the landscape looked just right for Shropshire, the book's setting. The house, the character's clothes, the street, all looked right - except, oddly for Peter, Mary's friend, who in the 1971 book is the vicar's son, but here appears (to my eye) to have wandered in from America:
Genuine question: would you be surprised to see a rural Shropshire 12-year-old dressed this way?
Overall the film was in improvement on the book, I thought, though it did recycle an awful lot of Ghibli tropes. One interesting thing is that, while everyone spoke in Japanese (obviously), when they wrote, they wrote in English. I wonder what the reasoning is there? Is it somehow more implausible, or more illusion breaking, to be seen to write Japanese than to be heard to speak it?
I felt reasonably good after the film, to the extent of making a plan to visit Shakey's for a tentative pizza, and then the shop called "Snobbish Babies" on the fifth floor of the station. (What can they sell?) Alas, before I'd got very far into the pizza the shivers descended again and forced me homeward. So today I've been extra quiet, writing blog posts and doing other such harmless nonsenses, but this one has already gone on quite long enough, so I will leave you for now with a calming picture of some carefully packaged but hugely expensive, and no doubt very delicious, Japanese fruit.
Yes, that mango really will cost you £9.50
Single from Alan Doyle's forthcoming album 'A Week at the Warehouse'. I don't know why but I hadn't listened to any of his solo / Beautiful Gypsies stuff*, and I've just discovered it and it MIGHT reconcile me to the break-up of GBS.
*Well. Maybe the TERRIBLE BAND NAME. No points, Alan.