Sigh of relief

I updated my blog software tonight. I even created a test blog to make sure I upgraded correctly. All went well, I thought, except for a few extra commands I had to add to the config file. Well, it turns out some of those commands changed my character set and my kanji no longer showed up AND all my apostrophes and dashes changed to strange characters. Luckily, my coding skills helped me out – I had commented all the new code and understood that the character set had changed. I removed all the config file improvements and I think everything is fine.

If you notice any problems, please let me know.

Starbucks contemplations

I stopped at my local Starbucks this afternoon for a hot chocolate and some ambiance to have a little reading time on my latest book. I had to return a textbook I had purchased at a bookstore in Nagoya station – it was a Korean translation of the Japanese. Not a lot of use for me. The weather today was clear and brisk, but not really cold. I thought I needed the 25 minute walk to the station just to clear my head, stretch my legs, and psych myself up for all the things I need to accomplish tonight. Part of my reward was stopping at the Starbucks and relaxing for a bit.

I’m not a big fan of Starbucks, but they aren’t so horrible. This one is especially big and comfortable with lots of windows, a large table for books and computers, and really feels like a neighborhood coffee shop. I was looking forward to sitting in one of the easy chairs by the window and enjoying my hot chocolate, my book, and watching the world pass by. Unfortunately, when I got there, there was only one table in the middle of the room available. Every premium spot was taken.

I felt like I was back in college at the library, and all my usual study spots were taken. It was very interesting looking around, there were high school age kids doing homework, adults working on their computers, adults reading texts or doing exercises. It felt like a coffee shop in a college town. I had chosen to go to get a bit of a change of scenery and also just be around other people instead of alone in my apartment. Looking around, I would guess that maybe the Starbucks was a place where some of these people could actually get away and get some space to focus on what they wanted to do. For the kids doing homework, maybe it was easier to do it and focus at Starbucks rather than at home. Maybe even it was the same for the adults.

I started thinking about the time I’ve had here so far, and I’m disappointed that I have not been more disciplined in my free time. I start my first Japanese class on Tuesday. That’s 10 months after I got here. I should be ashamed of myself. True, work has been incredibly intense, but I’ve wasted a lot of time as well. If I just added a little structure, discipline, and dedication maybe I could have started a lot sooner. So wish me luck as I try for that dedication. My apartment is sort of a mess right now, I have work that stacked up over the week that I need to get done (expense reports, tax preparation, as well as the usual work expectations in spite of 4 hours of email cleanup this weekend), and I have a stack of mail to deal with, and I would really love to change the style of this blog. Sigh. Well, here’s to getting my act together this week. Shoot, I even am disappointed that I don’t have a picture of the Starbucks to add to the blog.

Naked man festival

Yes, you read it correctly. Today I went to the naked man festival, known as 裸まつり (hadaka matsuri) in Japanese. Most every blogger living in the greater Nagoya area probably has written about this. So now it is my turn. What is the Hadaka matsuri? Quickly, I would describe it as an opportunity for men to drink a lot of sake, wear only a fundoshi, carry a large bamboo pole in the streets, flirt with old ladies, and try to touch a completely naked shaved man so that all their bad luck will be transferred. That’s the short version.

hadaka matsuri

According to the Aichi Prefectural Government San Francisco Office publication, “What’s Up Aichi

The Hadaka Matsuri, or Naked Festival, has been around for 1200 years and draws hundreds of thousands of participants and festival goers hoping to dispel the misfortunes of the previous year and summon the spring.

During a solemn ceremony in the days before the festival, a local man is chosen to be the shin otoko, literally “god man,” on whom all of the year’s sins and misfortunes will be cast. The stripped shin otoko, shaven of all his body hair and purified from days of confinement in Konomiya Shrine, makes his way through a horde of nearly ten-thousand men dressed in mere loincloths and headbands all vying to touch (or hit) him in order to drive away the year’s trouble and gain good fortune for the new year. Once the scapegoat reaches the gates of the shrine, he faces assailment from the unclothed mass of freezing men as his outnumbered guards bravely fend of the rambunctious townsmen by dousing them with buckets of ice cold water.

As many of the men succeed in their attempts to lay a hand on the shin otoko and others give in to the winter chill, the god man is finally able to fight with way, bruised and battered, into Konomiya Shrine, where he will pay his respects to Kunitamanokami, the shrine’s divine protector, before being driven from town.

So what’s the motivation for being the Shin Otoko?

I was not the only spectator at the festival. It was packed, and I actually bumped in to one of my colleagues who is also one of my English students in my weekly English conversation class.

hadaka matsuri

The festival is quite a testament to how alcohol and ritual can work people in to a bit of frenzy. We arrived rather early as it turned out and we saw a few groups go by. They were rather subdued with quite a bit of time separating each group. I wonder what determines the marching order? As the day progressed though, the groups seemed to get bigger and of course more and more wasted. After all, they had hours to get ready, which basically means hours to drink sake.

1 liter of sake
cropped - beer is an allowed substitute for sake

I’m not sure why watching the processional was interesting. But it was. The woman in front of us was exceedingly aggressive collecting strips of cloth and touching the participants. I guess that touching them transfers the bad spirits from her to the participants and then hopefully to the shin otoko. She even took cloth from a child! Those around us were surprised.

stealing fabric from babies

My colleagues were in the spirit of the event as well so as a group of foreigners it was interesting. One thing that kept us engaged was that the festival is absolutely something we would never see in the US (Burning Man excluded). I guess it could be compared to the now defunct Nude Olympics that occurred at Purdue. That always drew a crowd.

There are casualties as well, as you can see from the face of the man below. This is mild compared to some of the scrapes we saw. Some were even carted off in stretchers.

hadaka matsuri casualties

 

By the end of the event, things got pretty sloppy. Fundoshi got a little bit loose, and the jangly bits were jangling. I will spare the blog of those photos. There was one particularly sloppy foreigner who really should have been arrested. I had to look away. There was also the guy who was standing on a higher ledge just in front of us of kept bending over and exposing one of the twins to us. Everyone behind him was really laughing.

Enjoy the rest of the pictures. I hope to attend the fertility festival in March. Yeah, that’s right.

 

Early in the day, we wandered up to the temple where all the semi-naked men were going.

around the temple

 

Notice the body decorations. I had a good picture of a “Yes We Can” body graffiti, but there were young boys in the picture as well so I didn’t want some strange website linking to me.

body graffiti

 

Some more action shots during the procession.

hadaka matsuri

 

hadaka matsuri

 

That’s an expensive camera on a pole. I just held my camera in the air a lot. I’m not that crazy.

crazy camera setup

 

Like all festivals, food was prevelant.

matsuri food

matsuri food

 

Is this a warmup for the fertility festival?

These things again

 

Gaijin cooties

As I got on the train on the main line today, I was surprised to find two empty seats. It isn’t a problem standing, but of course after a long day and with the effects of jet lag, it is kind of nice to be able to sit down. The two empty seats were on either side of a woman, near the poles that support the seat and offer something to grip for those standing. This can be seen in the initial condition diagram below.

Initial Condition

All is well on the train

I was faced with the decision of choosing where to sit. Neither location was perfect, as no matter where I sat, I would squeeze in between two people. I chose the closest seat to where I entered the train. This, apparently, did not please the woman who I sat next to, as you can see in the intermediate condition.

Intermediate Condition

Uh oh!  It's the foreigner

All foreigners have gaijin cooties, which makes them undesirable to stand or sit next to on a train. Apparently the big, hairy, sweaty foreigners are dangerous. Many times people choose not to sit next to a foreigner. The woman next to me decided that the danger of catching cooties from the foreigner was just too high risk. Fortunately, there was another seat just to her left. Better to squeeze in next to your own kind, right?

Final Condition
Safe at last

This did not make me happy, but what can you do? I just looked at her. At the next stop, more people got on the train and I swear this guy contemplated the seat and then opted out. At the next next stop, the person next to the woman got off, and she moved down one more seat. Maybe she was trying to position herself for the coveted “next to the hard barrier” seat by the door. Who knows.

Just another day in Japan.

Food for thought

I was on a business trip back to the States last week. It truly was a business trip because I didn’t go home to LA, and I went to a city that I had never been to before. The trip made me realize that I am glad that I really enjoy Japanese food. I struck out most every night at restaurants, eating on my own. The first night I HAD to get Mexican, because that is what I miss the most. There was a Mexican restaurant near where I was staying, and people had warned me that it was very chain-esque and not that good. Even the chain restaurants in LA are marginally OK, and I figured after almost a year in Japan they would seem 5-star. Nope. I should have listened to their advice. It was pretty bad. I would describe the delicate spices as a lot of pepper.

The second night I met a colleague and we decided to go to a French restaurant that is supposed to be open in the evenings. We assumed the locked door that we faced indicated it was closed. Instead we went to Indian. Here in Nagoya, we have some very good Indian restaurants so I have my opportunities to eat Indian. The food was good, certainly better than the night before.

The third night I was able to visit a family friend and get a home cooked meal. Ah, that was the best of all. We made our own burritos and the food had flavor and we had a good time together. That was a meal.

The fourth night I really wanted to get to a neighborhood that was a little hipper than the exburbia location where I was working and staying. I can’t complain too much because fortunately I was able to find an Apple Store at the exburbia big hair mall and pick up more Apple stuff (Apple TV this time), like I need anything more from Apple. I got in my rental minivan and drove to downtown looking for a good alternative bookstore. As luck would have it, I stumbled across a great bookstore and left with 9 new books. That should keep me busy. I also wanted US style Thai food – you know the really good strip mall variety that is great tasting even if the décor leaves something to be desired. Well, I found a restaurant where the décor certainly left something to be desired. The problem is, the food did too. Wow, I didn’t know you could screw up Thai food, but they did.

Finally, the last night, my colleagues wanted to have a special night meeting, and we ended up a McCormick & Schmick’s esque place and dined on appetizers. This is considered to be a good restaurant, but I found all the food to be over sauced and lacking subtlety. Sigh.

At work, a large group of Japanese colleagues were also around, working in the production area. I noticed that already they were starting to bring in Japanese food that they had made and would share, or they were ordering bento boxes from a faraway Japanese restaurant. In the past I would have been appalled (just as I am here were American’s order McDonald’s en masse), wondering why they couldn’t adapt to the local cuisine and not be stuck in the traditional food ways? But now I get it – both ways. There are Americans here in Japan that simply cannot stand Japanese food. They are the same ones that told me all the good steak houses to go to on my trip. Then there are Japanese that can’t imagine the food so many Americans eat – the heavy sauces, the outlandish portions. It is just easier to stick to what you know.

As for me, I guess I just wanted food that tasted good. It didn’t have to be Japanese, but then again I wasn’t looking for the hamburger and steak everyone was recommending. OK, sure, if I was in LA In-n-Out, Astroburger, or Islands would have been a destination, but that’s comfort food.

Sorry, once again no pictures. A new season (Valentine’s Day) is upon us, so maybe I’ll get some good, goofy engrish pictures.