dorchadas: (Not he who tells it)
Today was Yom Kippur, so I spent most of it not on the internet.

I didn’t get tickets to our synagogue--we’re not members since something happened with our payments that somehow never got straightened out--but that’s been our routine for a couple years now. Last night we watched Kol Nidre streamed by Nashuva. It's extremely Californian, with the rabbi going barefoot and, at one point, Spanish guitar, but I like it a lot. And it's free.

Today, I read the book of Jonah, a list of people's regrets they seek to atone for, went for a solitary walk in a nearby park, and said some of the prayers that don't require a minyan. Maybe next year I'll get tickets, or try to go to Mishkan's services, but I feel like it was a fulfilling holy day.

Now, I'm sitting with a pay data (from my birthday drinks) in one hand and watching let's plays with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd. It's been a thoughtful day.
dorchadas: (Default)
Happy 5778!

Rosh Hashannah 2017

Tonight [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are going to walk over to the lake for tashlich after work, and then we're going to eat food from a Jewish deli that [ profile] tropicanaomega just discovered.

Just put in an order for two Sister-in-Law sandos and some latkes with apple sauce. A sweet year indeed.

תשעה באב

2017-Aug-01, Tuesday 14:30
dorchadas: (Blue Rose)
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst thereof
We hanged up our harps.
For there they that led us captive asked of us words of song,
And our tormentors asked of us mirth:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How shall we sing the LORD’S song
In a foreign land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget her cunning.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
If I remember thee not;
If I set not Jerusalem
Above my chiefest joy.
-Psalm 137:1-6
Today is Tisha b'Av, the commemoration of the destruction of both Temples and several other disasters which have befallen the Children of Israel over the millennia, as well as many disasters which almost certainly didn't happen on the Ninth of Av but which get folded into it because it's poetically satisfying. Traditionally, we do not eat or drink from sundown to sundown, do not shave or get haircuts, do not conduct business, do not shower or wash, do not wear leather shoes, and avoid activities that are joyous or hopeful like studying Torah or saying hello.

I'm posting this from work, so I'm only doing middling on following halakhah there. I did fast for much of the day, but I found a group of rabbinic opinions that I really like that suggest fasting until halakhic noon (chatzot, the exact midpoint between sunrise and sunset), and then breaking the fast, thus both mourning the Temples and the loss of their centrality in Jewish life while celebrating the rabbinic sages and the diversity and vivacity of the diaspora. This is a little unusual, as fasts are generally sunrise to sundown, or sundown to sundown for Tisha b'Av and Yom Kippur, but there is some precedent--some people fast on Erev Rosh Hashannah but only until halakhic noon.

Tonight, I'll come home from work and read Eicha together with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd. But for now, I have to keep working.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)

This weekend is the date of two of my favorite festivals in Hiroshima--Tōkasan in Hiroshima City and Mibu no Hanadaue in Chiyoda (とうかさん and 壬生の花田植, respectively). There's video of Mibu no Hanadaue here

It's really making me miss Japan. We went to both festivals all three years we lived in Hiroshima, because while we sometimes had a hard time knowing that any particular event was occurring, Tōkasan was the talk of the town for months, and our students invited us to Mibu no Hanadaue the first year we lived there. And now that social media is so big in disseminating information, I follow a bunch of Facebook pages like 北広島ほっと情報 (Kitahiroshima Town Hot News Updates) or the Tōkasan page. That means I have a constant stream of updates on festivals I went to, festivals I knew about but never got the chance to attend, and festivals I've never heard of but really wish I had. Plus pictures, of course. Get Hiroshima, the gaijin-run local events news source, posted this picture of Mibu no Hanadaue.


Re: my subject line, today's weather in Chiyoda was sunny and clear, with a 0% chance of precipitation.

Also, last night I installed Heroes of the Storm after my attempts to play an AI-enabled DotA Allstars in Warcraft III did not go well. It's the only map I've ever found that crashed WCIII, and some searching found that the map has problems with certain heroes' abilities. There's no way I'm playing DotA on Those days are done. I played DotA games for thousands of hours when I was a university student and have no desire to go back to the world of racist insults and people dropping the instance the other team scores first blood against them.

HotS seems to solve a lot of my problems with MOBA games. There's no items, so there's no need to memorize item combinations. There's no gold, so last-hitting isn't a thing. XP is team-wide, so jungling and people demanding solo mid don't exist. Also, it's free just like the original DotA Allstars was (WCIII was a sunk cost at that point), so there's no harm in trying it out. And you can play against AI so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd might try it out with me and see if she likes it.

I don't know how long I'll stick with it, but I'm glad I tried it out. It's much more fun than I thought it would be.


2017-Apr-19, Wednesday 08:56
dorchadas: (JCDenton)
Last night after Japanese class, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I stopped by the local watering hole for dinner, since we haven't spent much of our restaurant budget for this month and we both really wanted hamburgers. It's funny--I'll go weeks without eating any bread at all because I don't want any, and all it takes is one holiday saying I can't eat bread to make me want to dig into a nice sourdough with loads of butter.

I got a steak sandwich, the same food I got the first time I ever went there years ago. That time I made the mistake of ordering it rare, because it's steak, right? That's what you do. Well...sure, if you're eating it with a knife and fork. With a steak sandwich it meant I tore the bread to pieces trying to rip off chunks of steak with my teeth, and this time I learned and ordered it medium.

Though looking at it now, it makes me want a cheesesteak...

During Japanese class, I talked a bit with Aya-sensei about Pesach foods and she was pretty dismissive of matzah for not tasting like anything. And mostly she's right, though [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did manage to find a brand that was olive-oil-and-herb flavored that was pretty good on its own. But just yesterday, I learned that cracker matzah is an invention of the modern age due to transportation and storage concerns, and that previous matzah was all soft like chapatis or tortillas! The source I read is here, though there's also, which looks like an Angelfire page from the 90s but has plenty of rabbinical opinions on soft matzah.

Some googling found a bakery in New York that makes it and ships it overnight, but there's no products listed on the website so I'm not sure if it's still in business or not. Maybe we can try making it ourselves, now that Pesach is over and there's no halakhic concerns if we screw up the recipe.
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
My paternal grandfather joined the Army Air Force during World War II. He flew bombing missions in Europe, mostly focused on infrastructure--destroying roads, bridges, railway lines, and other things the nazis needed to conduct their war effort. When the war was over and he came back home and married my grandmother, he used the G.I. Bill to go to university and study engineering. He worked for Eastman Oil Well Survey Company, then retired on a generous union pension. Generous enough that for a short time, he had a summer house in Oregon and a winter house in California.

My parents have a display in their house dedicated to him:

He died nearly ten years ago, but I'm almost glad that he didn't live to see what's happened since then. The death of unions, already pretty far advanced by the time he died. Wholesale abandonment of the notion of expertise. Electing a fascist to the presidency. Literal nazis marching in support of the president.

Happy Thanksgiving.
dorchadas: (Default)
Nearly every year since we moved back from Japan, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I have made time to go out to visit my parents in October because in addition to seeing them and getting to eat my mother's delicious food, St. Charles's Scarecrow Festival is held that month. We last went two years ago, noting that the scarecrows were better than when we went three years ago, and last year we didn't go because I kickstarted tickets for the H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast live show and it turned out that was the same weekend. But this time we didn't have to worry about that and so after work on Friday, we took the train out to the suburbs.

We originally thought about going out to Kuiper Farms to go pick apples, where we went with [ profile] uriany two years ago, but my mother mentioned that my father couldn't come because he was playing in the community band at Batavia Octoberfest. I asked her what else was going on there and she said that she had no idea, because it was the festival's first year, so we decided to go there instead. After walking from my parents' house to downtown and being disappointed that the leaves were mostly still green, lunch at East China Inn, the Chinese food that I grew up eating which I'm pretty sure hasn't updated the prices since I was a child either, we walked over to River Street just in time to see the band performance.

When we got there, I was in for a surprise:

Mr Heath band performance

That's Mr. Heath on the right, directing the community band. He was the band director at Batavia High School when I was a student there and played euphonium in the band, like my father before me. And speaking of that, my father is in the band, though out of the shot to the left, sitting next to my middle school band director Mr. Stiers who is playing the tuba.

They played several songs, most of which I didn't know because they were by a local composer, and then struck the set to clear it for the next performance. While they were cleaning, my father pointed me out to Mr. Heath, so I got to talk with him for a bit, introduce [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, tell me about how we lived in Chicago and had taught English in Japan. And then on the way out, we had almost the same conversation with Mr. Stiers, who looks like he hasn't aged in the last twenty years, though my father later mentioned that he's had some health troubles. I only got to stay about twenty minutes at the Oktoberfest, but it was a great twenty minutes. Weeee smiling happy face

After a stop into a tea shop that had just opened called The Tea Tree where we bought some banana tea (which was delicious), we all piled into the car and drove to St. Charles to see the Scarecrow Festival. Unlike previous years, and unlike the weather forecast had suggested, it was cloudless and sunny, with little wind, so the relative temperature was probably around 25°C and it was much more crowded than I've ever seen it in the past.

There were some good scarecrows, though:

Scarecrowfest 2016 Pumpkinmon

That was one of three Pokemon-themed scarecrows. My parents are of the opinion that the scarecrows' quality has been progressively going down over time, and while I sort of agree, I thought this year was pretty good. In addition to that one, there was a giant headless horseman, and a Calvin and Hobbes on a sled, and, in a major surprise to me, a R.O.B. scarecrow, which is a real deep nerd dive. I think I liked this year's scarecrows just because of that one, though the various Pokemon scarecrows showed me that pokemon translate very well to painted spherical objects.

Then we bought some fudge at the craft fair and before returning, we took a detour out to Gould Cider and Apple Pressing to get some apple cider. Kawaii heart emoji I've been drinking it for years, ever since my parents found out about it sometime when when I was in university, but this is the first time I've ever been to the actual location. I'm still a bit amazed how abruptly rural the countryside gets just by crossing Randall Road. Only a couple mintues of driving and it was farmhouses with barns and fields of corn, and then the cider farm with a goat wandering around outside. Inside was the operating cider press, a wooden frame with wooden boxes covered with cheesecloth and filled with apples being pressed. It probably violates any number of FDA regulations, but damn if it doesn't churn out some delicious cider.

Then we went back to my parents' house, ate their barbecue, and then took the train home to avoid the Chicago Marathon crowds.
dorchadas: (Kirby Walk)
I don't really like being the center of attention at an event. I don't even like being the soft center, which is why I haven't had a party for myself in years--not since high school, I think. I thought about having a birthday party this year, but eventually decided against it. Maybe next year when I turn 35, since that's more of a milestone.

Which isn't to say that I'm one of those people who hates birthdays. I celebrate every year, just quietly, and this year was no different on that score. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd met me on Friday after work and we walked the two blocks from my office to Benny's Chop House for the first of two birthday dinners. It wasn't my birthday, but August 19th (until sundown) was Tu b'Av, an ancient festival that died with the Second Temple and was forgotten until the Israelis revived it as a kind of Jewish Valentine's Day. I only know about it because of the Jewish holidays calendar addon I have in my phone calendar, but it's as good a reason for a fancy dinner as any, even if half of Benny's menu is an abomination before Hashem.

The parts that are good are really good, though:

Filet mignon with a red wine reduction and black truffle on top.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd told me that my whole face changed when I took a bite. It was probably the best steak I've ever had in my life.

The next day, I woke up to a thunderstorm just like I had on Friday, which is probably the best weather I could have wanted on my birthday. My parents came into down and met my sister, who was already here meeting up with high school friends before her flight to Costa Rica today, and we went out to breakfast at a French-Vietnamese restaurant nearby. I got duck curry, because curry for breakfast sounds amazing to me at all times, and then we went back to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my apartment until they all left to avoid the traffic. Then we mostly stayed at home until dinner time, when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd made me even more duck:

Crispy duck with mango-cilantro salsa, roasted cauliflower, and asparagus.

Not visible there is the flourless chocolate cake she also made, this time with real vanilla extract. It's in the recipe, but [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd usually left it out because we don't use vanilla for that much and it would just sit around otherwise. But my parents gave me a bottle of it for my birthday along with a few other spices, so why not use it? And I think I could taste the difference, too.  photo getin.001.gif

I was feeling a bit off for most of my birthday, and I think it's because while I wanted to have a quiet weekend I still ended up with a lot of stuff to do--yesterday I woke up at 8:30 and it still seemed like it was dinnertime before I had even blinked. Today has gone a bit slower, though I still haven't gotten as much time as I'd liked. But we never have enough, do we?  photo darksouls.001.gif

I got to read more The Lord of the Rings to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd today and have a quiet breakfast inside with her, and even though it's taking place today instead of yesterday, it's one of the best birthday presents I could have asked for. I don't mind getting older as long as those are the opportunities that it will bring.
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
You can tell Japan is a high-trust society with good social cohesion because the elevators hang around forever but close instantly when you press the 閉める button.

I woke up late, so after showers and breakfast again at Lotteria, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and decided to go to Sanjūsangendō again. But apparently everyone else had the same idea, because when we got to the 206 bus there were roughly a hundred people waiting in line to use it. Faced with that, we figured walking would be better, so we set out east. Fortunately, the rain that's been forecast nearly every day of our visit but that never materialized finally arrived, so it was completely overcast during the walk and thus not that hot.

Sanjūsangendō does not allow pictures inside the hall and since it's still an actively-used temple--there are spots for praying and priests inside taking prayer requests--I didn't try to sneak a picture. But I did get this image of the exterior:

With artistic tree in foreground.

Sanjūsangendō is [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's favorite temple in Kyoto, because it's the temple of 観音 (Kannon), and because it feels like an actual temple. Even though it's also a tourist space, it's quiet, it's dimly lit, the whole hall smells of incense and sounds of dimly-ringing bells, and stacked in row on row in front of you as you enter are a thousand and one statues of Kannon, five hundred on each side of a giant seated Kannon almost four meters high.

We walked the circuit of the temple, in front of the statues and then the back hallway where they held the 通し矢 (tōshiya) archery competitions. There's even a wooden beam exhibited that has dozens of arrowshafts sticking out of it, the remnants of ancient contests.

After a brief foray onto the grounds to take some pictures of the garden:

I love this gardening style.

...we went back to the hotel room to get ready for the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka. That took a bit longer than I was expecting because when we got back our room was still being cleaned, but eventually we were all ready. "We" being [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [ profile] xoDrVenture, and myself, since everyone else had already gone ahead to Ōsaka to visit the castle. We walked to the train station, got on the next Shinkansen bound for Shin-Ōsaka station, and we were off. After a tasty チキン南蛮お弁当 (chikin nanban obentō, "Boxed chicken lunch of the southern barbarians") scarfed down in ten minutes because Kyoto and Ōsaka are really close together, we arrived in Ōsaka.

I've only been to Ōsaka once before because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had to take her GRE here, so I went with her for moral support. I remember the Human Rights Museum, that the conbini had kimchi-ume onigiri, and that's about it, so unlike the other cities we've been to I really had no idea where to go. Fortunately, as we were looking at a map, an English-speaking train station attendant came over and asked where we wanted to go, and we got on the train with a helpfully labeled map of our destination.

I then promptly ignored it, because we had a bit of time before the parade and I wanted to go to check out 四天王寺 (shitennōji, "Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings") first, after reading that it was one of the oldest temples in Japan (built 593) and the first known temple to be built officially by the state. So we walked there, against the flood of schoolgirls leaving school that had just let out, and arrived in mid-afternoon.

Here's the gate to the inner temple:

Fūjin and Raijin, guardians of wind and storm.

I did not actually go into the inner temple, because they charged admission and also because it was heavily under construction. I thought there was some kind of ceremony taking place with pounding drums until I looked into the inner compound and saw the heavy machinery.

There were a lot of smaller buildings scattered around the grounds, and I would have liked to spend more time looking around except we were on a schedule and also construction, so we left after a bit and walked to the subway, where we hopped on and came up near 大坂天満宮 (Ōsaka Tenmangu) into giant crowds of people in yukata, festival booths, a guy handing out fans, and, of course, the parade:

This is right after they put the mikoshi down and then picked it up again.

We watched the parade long enough for a couple mikoshi and one extremely-upset horse to pass by, and then the other group told us that they had found a place by the river to watch the later boat procession, so we left and worked our way through the crowd, across the parade route, over the bridge across the water, and over to the stone steps where the others were sitting. Then the boats came out on the water.

One of about thirty boats.

The boats were mostly dragged by tugboats, but a few of them, like the foreground of that picture, were muscle-powered, prompting feats of oarsmanship and [ profile] tastee_wheat to say:
"I've never seen a boat do doughnuts before."
We watched the boats for about an hour and a half while the boat with the shamisen player, the boat with the bunraku performers, the boat with the dancers, and the various boats with oars doing doughnuts passed by. We were waiting for the fireworks to start, and they did start...further up the river and low enough that they were behind some buildings and we basically couldn't see anything at all other than some flashes on the clouds. After ten minutes of fruitlessly hoping they would move closer, we decided to give up and head home.

[ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega split off while the rest of us wandered around looking for takoyaki. We eventually found some, as well as kara-age, pineapple on a stick, and chocolate-covered pineapple on a stick, and fortified with those we took the subway to Ōsaka Station, the train to Shin-Ōsaka station, and the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Hurray for the JR Pass.

Once we got back, we headed back to the hotel so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and [ profile] xoDrVenture could change out of their yukatas, and then there was only one thing left to do:

I don't know why they have Nightwish, but I won't complain that they do.

One hour turned into two, then into three, as is the way with karaoke. Finally, we ended with the traditional "Bohemian Rhapsody," all said our good nights, and went back to our separate places of rest.

Steps taken: 19430

Kyoto: Sunday

2016-Jul-25, Monday 00:33
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
It's not just that our hotel is owned by a right-wing revisionist who thinks that comfort women were voluntary workers employed to help quell the desires of the barbarian Koreans, although he totally does and I read it in the propaganda in our hotel room desk. It's that the shower is terrible. And that's not just because its two settings are "off" and "sandblaster," although they are, or that the ceiling is too low, although it is. It's that there's piping or something in the shower area ceiling that drops half of it about 10 cm lower than the rest so what head space I have, I can't really use.

Somehow, I managed to shower and wash my hair and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to the train station to find some breakfast, since among its many sins, our hotel also doesn't have breakfast of any kind. After a while wandering around trying to find a place that didn't have a bunch of ham or bacon, the hip modern breakfast foods of Japan, we settled on Lotteria Burger, a fast food joint I willingly admit I only really like because it's Japanese. I got the 絶品チーズバーガーワイド ("Perfect cheeseburger wide"), which didn't quite live up to its name but was worth the ¥600 I paid for it.

Then we took the subway, came up at Kyoto City Hall and, well...

The tree is what really got me.

When we came on the lion dance last night, I went online to figure out what was going on. It turns out that I had read the banners at the entrance of Yasaka-Jinja correctly. The entire month of July is the Gion Matsuri, and while a major portion of the festival is the parade that takes place on the 17th, dating back to 869, there's another parade on the 24th that's a few centuries old. This is that parade. It's ten floats that aren't used in the main parade and a few smaller groups walking by, and what floats they are.

Japanese Vikings.

Some floats--actually 神輿 (mikoshi, "portable shrines")--were wheeled, but several we saw were carried by dozens of men (everyone actually marching in the parade was a man), and when they reached the intersection, they would spin the float around a few times before continuing on in the new directions. If it was one of the gigantic floats like the ones I have pictured above, the people riding it would coordinate the movements of the people pulling the ropes to turn it without it tipping over, and all the while musicians played flutes and cymbals and drums. It was amazing.

After the last float passed us by, we went back down into the shipping arcade connected to the station to get a chocolate-covered croissant that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had seen on the way in and some medicine for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's stomach. That accomplished, we walked south a bit to the private train line that led down to Fushimi-Inari Shrine, though not before taking a quick detour along the Kamogawa.

Ducks on Duck River.

You probably know about Fushimi-Inari even if you've never heard the name. If you've ever seen those pictures of rows and rows of shrine gates going up the mountain, spaced so closely that they're almost like walking into a tunnel, well, that's Fushimi-Inari.

We got there before [ profile] aaron.hosek, who was planning on joining us, so we ducked into Kanoko Cafe across the tracks and bought an overpriced matcha float and waffle for the right to sit in the air conditioning while we waited. Unfortunately, [ profile] aaron.hosek accidentally got on an express train and was carried off into parts unknown, so after an assurance from him not to wait, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd paid and started our walk down the streets leading to the shrine.

The street up was a bit like ninenzaka outside of Kiyomizu-dera crossed with a festival, with a lot of tiny shops selling traditional tourist kitsch plus festival foods. Then we passed through a giant orange torī and saw red lanterns everywhere, a stone staircase, and beyond that, the rows of torī leading up Mount Inari.

So cute!

At the bottom things were pretty bustling and crowded, but as we walked further and further up the mountain, the crowds thinned out a bit, and where they didn't thin out, they got quiet. People would occasionally stop and take pictures, or say something to their friends, but mostly it was just climbing a mountain to the sound of crows and cicadas, surrounded by the orange of the torī and an endless green beyond.

About a third of the way up, we came to a mountain lake:


There was a map here of the entire mountain, showing all the gates, the smaller shrines, and how much we had left to go, which was quite a lot. If we had more time, and if [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd hadn't been feeling kind of sick, we might have tried to hike all the way to the stop of the mountain. But she is feeling sick, and anyway, we already hiked one mountain this trip. There's no need to do another one.

We also saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said:
"My soul has been corrected. I have what I need."
...which I would love to get for myself if I knew where he found it. But more directly relevant, there were a ton of tiny shrines scattered about the mountain:

Shrines all around

On the way down we bought a small kitsunemikuji, a good-luck fox, and some amazake from a shop that was almost certainly also someone's home--小森由夫, the nameplate said, "Komori Yoshio"--right on the edge of where Kyoto ends and the mountain begins. They served it cold for ¥50 more, which we gladly paid, and then when they brought it out, it came with a tiny spoon and crushed ginger to mix in before drinking. After climbing up a third of a mountain, it was exactly what we needed.

I haven't had this in years. Delicious.

You can buy amazake starter kits for the rice online, and now that I'm reminded how good it is, we're absolutely going to try that.

At the base of the mountain we met [ profile] aaron.hosek, who had gone halfway to Ōsaka and come all the way back, but had an injured knee and didn't want to climb too much of Mount Inari. We hopped on the JR train coming back from Nara, taking advantage again of our JR passes, and went back to Kyoto Station for lunch, where [ profile] xoDrVenture, who had stayed behind to do laundry, met us for lunch at Katsukura, which I didn't realize was so amazing when we went there, but which was definitely worth the ¥2980 I paid for the beef filet katsu set meal.

Lunch done, we tried to walk over to Sanjūsangendō, but because we had gotten started so late after a late lunch, by the time we got there, it was 4:45 p.m. and the gates had been closed to visitors for 45 minutes, so we split off--three of us heading back to the train station and one heading back to his Air BnB. After a stop at 7/11 to get cash, and another stop at a currency exchange, we went back to the hotel so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could rest a bit before her birthday dinner and I could hand-wash some laundry.

Around 7 p.m., we met up at Kyoto Station to take the bus to Gion and Maharajah, and after a brief adventure where we accidentally took the bus going the wrong way and had to switch to the other bus, we did make it and not too late. We ate delicious Indian food, talked about music, the economic plight of snake peoplesnake people, movies, and politics, and came up after dinner to find the final part of the Gion Matsuri parade--returning the mikoshi to Yasaka-Jinja.

Lots of chanting not evident in this photograph.

We stayed and watched it long enough for it to pass by--[ profile] tropicanaomega even got a hachimaki from one of the marchers--then we went to go find a karaoke place that was open. Right as we did, the one friend who hadn't been able to make it to dinner said she was available and asked what we were doing, so we left the place we were about to check in and headed back toward the station. One person peeled off there because he was staying closer to Yasaka-Jinja, and that caused a bit of a chain reaction, coupled with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's stomach hurting. Eventually we decided to try again tomorrow, after the Tenjin Matsuri, and headed off for our respective beds.

Steps taken: 20296

Kyoto: Saturday

2016-Jul-23, Saturday 23:51
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Finally we had a day where we didn't really have a plan or a schedule that required we be somewhere on time, so we lounged around in the morning, had a leisurely breakfast at the Toyoko Inn--better than Sakura Hotel, not as good as Hotel Active--and then left right at checkout time to head to the train station. Due to the heat and various injuries sustained while walking, we went east along Heiwa-Ōdōri to the nearest streetcar stop and took the streetcar to the station, then jumped on the next Shinkansen heading for Kyoto, which left in ten minutes.

The train was pretty low-key, because between Hiroshima it's mostly tunnels with no internet connection and everyone was trying to get Pokemon Go to work during the trip. We did have to change trains in Himeji, after which we had assigned seats, but it arrived right after our old train did and we arrived in Kyoto around 1 p.m.

And suddenly, shrine. Like you do.

We split at the station, since [ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega were staying in an Air BnB and didn't have a check-in time until 3 p.m. We didn't either, but we were staying in a hotel, so we walked around Kyoto Station and found the wrong hotel in the same chain--there's two of them about two blocks from each other--and then dropped off our luggage and went back to the train station, since almost every major train station in Japan is a giant retail and eating hub as well as a place where trains run. If everyone is going to be there already, might as well take advantage of it, right?

After lunch at a noodle place called めん、いるんな ("Noodles, various kinds") in the Porta Dining center, we wandered around a bit try into find more water for [ profile] xoDrVenture, who was feeling very dehydrated, but by the time we actually found a place selling some that didn't have too long of a line, it was time to check in and she figured that she'd get water in the hotel. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I bought some yatsuhashi, a local delicacy, as gagaku played from the speakers in the train station, and we all went back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and checked in. Though not before stopping to take a picture of this guy:

Cute mascots are mandatory.

In the hotel, one person discovered that the desk was filled with right-wing propaganda, and apparently the leader of the APA Group is a uyoku dantai. If I had known that, I would never have booked a room here, but we've already paid, so...

After we'd had a bit to settle in and the one person who had taken a detour to Okayama had time to arrive, we went back to Kyoto Station and took the express bus to Shijo-Kawaramachi and the Takashimaya department store, wherein was the pilgrimage central of nerddom, especially lately:

Gotta catch them all.

This was [ profile] tropicanaomega's idea, but I'm really glad we went with it. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I wandered around and found a pikachu dressed as a maiko and another pikachu in summer festival clothes, so we bought a pair of them to display in our apartment since you can literally only get them in Kyoto, and then got a fan, a frisbee kind of thing, extra bags, and several fliers for buying the pair of pikachus and spending over ¥5000 total on them. We thought about buying a few other things, including a pair of pikachu tea cups, but decided against it since we'd just end up displaying them and we already had two plushies to do that with.

After we had all gotten our fill of Pokemon, we went up to the restaurant floor of Takashimaya to look for restaurants, but everything up there was a bit expensive and not super appetizing, so I looked to Google and found a kaitenzushi restaurant called Chojiri, which someone else in line waiting with us mentioned was a good choice since it's apparently considered amazing. And it was really good--I loaded down with a ton of salmon and the seasonal specialty, fried founder. Once we had all stuffed ourselves for about ¥2100 a person, we left and headed east toward Gion across the Kamogawa.

A good place for a sunset stroll. Just ask [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd.

Where Kawaramachi is full of glitz and glow, Gion is much more down-to-earth. Fewer designer goods, more traditional clothing and cobblestone streets lit by paper lanterns. We did a bit of walking, passing Maharajah, where we've eaten every time we've been in Kyoto so far and plan to do so again, and then [ profile] tropicanaomega decided to head back to her Air BnB to prevent her ankle from getting too strained. [ profile] tastee_wheat joined her, but the rest of us kept going into Yasaka-Jinja at the end of the street. Following the sound of the flute, we came on a performance:

Lion dance!

All those signs advertising the Gion Matsuri that I had seen but not really registered actually meant something. We came in about halfway through and watched the rest of it until the finale, after which the performers took off their costumes to stop sweating so much, the crowd dispersed, and the action ended. We looked a bit around the park, and seeing nothing else there, decided to go home, though not until after a quick look down a scenic cobblestone alleyway, made somewhat less scenic by the constant taxis driving down the road to pick people up from restaurants.

One of us was staying near Gion and split off, but one other person, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and I took the subway back, including one transfer and a bit of confusion. But we made it back to the hotel, and after long showers, it was time for bed.

Also, we spent a ton of time playing Pokemon Go. We caught a カモネギ, which is apparently only available in Asia. Lucky!

Steps taken: 14603
dorchadas: (Office Space)
Our Seder went really well! Everyone had a good time, and even now, almost a week later, we're still eating leftovers from it. It's also the longest Seder we've ever had--it started around 5:30 with the traditional (for our household) watching of Prince of Egypt and people left just before midnight. I don't think we got to dinner until 10:00, what with all the discussion and stories being shared in between portions from the Haggadah, I loved it.

Anyway, this week I was listening to the Talking in Shul podcast and they had a section on the Shefokh hamatkha, part of the Haggadah that comes near the end. It reads:
Pour out Your wrath upon those who do not know You and upon the kingdoms which do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitations. Pour out Your fury upon them; let the fierceness of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them in indignation and eradicate them from under Your heavens.
The last part of the podcast was devoted to the question of what place does this have in the Seder?

Some people deal with it by taking it out--our Haggadah actually doesn't have Shefokh hamatkha in it at all--and some of them by replacing it with another section. There's a forgery that supposedly dates from 1521 that starts "pour out your love"--you can see the full quote here, though they pass it off as genuine--as one widely-cited replacement.

I'm kind of wondering if we should add it in, though. The Seder is a welcoming experience, or at least it's supposed to be. Part of the Seder is the announcement "All who are hungry, come and eat" (though Talking in Shul does point out that you say this after everyone has already sat down and the door is closed!) and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I have always invited a lot of gentile friends to our Seders. But it's also supposed to commemorate the experience of our ancestors in Egypt, what with the maror and the salt water that represent the bitterness and pain of slavery.

But there's really no symbol of anger. In my Philosophy of Politics class at Penn, I read bits of Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, and while I don't remember any specific quotes, I remember the point that anger is important to oppressed peoples and that it's not a character flaw; often it can be a source of strength in the face of hardship. Expecting the oppressed to remain perfectly calm is another way of exerting authority over them. The Haggadah encourages its participants to imagine that they themselves had been enslaved and now are free, and to my mind, part of that is the anger that slaves would feel but be forbidden to display.

And, while we're mostly isolated from it here in America, there is the rising tide of anti-semitism elsewhere in the world to consider too. From the end of Yemen's 2500-year-old Jewish community in the face of threats to convert to Islam or leave to the problems with Labour in Britain, I imagine there are plenty of people out there who wish for G-d to pour out a little more of his wrath than usual.

This year, in addition to the wine cup of Eliyahu and the water cup of Miriam, we added a coffee cup of Zipporah, who was infamously mocked by Aharon and Miriam for her skin color, as a tribute to those who do not feel comfortable in Jewish spaces because of their skin color, or family background, or childhood experiences. Maybe next year, we should add back in the Shefokh hamatkha.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Mibu no Hanadaue Field
壬生の花田植 (Mibu no Hanadaue, "The rice-field-planting of Mibu," like it says in that link) is held every year in Chiyoda, and has been for over five hundred years. I wrote about it the first time we went, when a student in our English class at the community center invited us to go. There's an account of the festival and what I thought at the time in that other link, but I didn't write about a lesson that we got in Japanese indirectness, so I'll mention that now.

It was extremely hot--probably at least 35ºC--and very sunny, and Kaminaka-san asked us a couple times if we wanted to leave. Initially, we thought that he thought we were bored, so to show him that we were definitely interested (which we were), we said that we would like to move to a different place to get a better view. On the second time he, it was very hot and we were sweaty and tired, so we agreed that it was time to go.

Later, we realized what was really going on. He was tired of standing out in the sun, but having invited us to the festival and knowing that we hadn't seen it before, he didn't want to be the first one to say that he was done watching. Therefore, he asked us if we wanted to stay, since us saying no would give him an easy out.

We went in both 2010 and 2011, and while 2010 was hot again, 2011 was cloudy and cool, and we managed to stay for the entirety of the festival. Somewhat sadly, it turns out there was no special ending, and people just drifted away after the dancing and the planting was done. Still, I'm glad we had good weather for festival-attending, and I am glad we stayed, because we left early in both 2009 and 2010 and staying the whole time was a resolution for us in 2011.

Mibu no Hanadaue Oxen Path
As might be expected of a festival that's been going on for five centuries, the planting done during Mibu no Hanadaue is done in the traditional fashion. None of those straight rows and neatly-placed rice plants that you get from mechanically-planted fields. Instead, the field is turned by hand, using plows pulled by oxen who are done up in elaborate headdresses and wrappings. Before the actual planting starts, there's a parade down this street, where a lot of community and school groups accompany the women who sing and do the planting, the men who beat out the timing of the planting on their drums, and the oxen and their drivers.

One event that changed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's and my culinary landscape is that in 2011, we were wandering around the street looking for lunch and we found a couple selling Japanese curry out of their garage. I'm not sure if the husband was Japanese and the wife was Indonesian, it was the other way around, they were both Indonesian, or if they were both Japanese and had just had traveled to Indonesia before, but they had tumeric rice to go on the side with the curry, and it was the best カレーライス I had in my time in Japan. We haven't had it with curry rice anymore, but we make it a lot to go with chicken.

There was also a lovely tea house with a garden out back that we'd go to once a year, during Mibu no Hanadaue. We'd get the matcha, and the sweet along with it, and drink it while looking over the garden and listening to the parade outside.

Tondo Field
That's not actually the name of the field, but that's the main memory I have of it. On the right is the Yae-nishi Meeting Center, and on the left is the field where the Tondo Festival was held every year. Apparently it was a relatively new custom for the area (that link is to the festival held in Onomichi), but it got increasingly elaborate as we attended. The first year it was just zenzai and sake and pickles, and by the third year we had wild boar shot by one of the farmers for getting into his fields, and fish, and onigiri, and it was basically a feast. I wrote about that Tondo Festival here.

That wasn't the only event we attended there, though. The Meeting Center had spring and fall talent competitions, and we participated twice. The first time, I had a cold and couldn't actually perform, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd played a guitar and sang, though I don't remember what the piece she did was. The second time, we did "Scarborough Fair" together, and then I sang "Skibbereen" a cappella. We never got any comments on them, and I still wonder what our neighbors thought of me singing what's essentially a dirge at a talent competition.

During one summer, we went to a 皆で手作り遊び大会, which translate as "Let's Everyone Hand-Make Toys Together Gathering!" That was where I learned that I'm hopeless at origami--I tried to make a frog, and while I got halfway done I couldn't get the legs to come together--and where a little girl seemed incensed that I had long hair and kept demanding to know whether I was a man or not. I assured her that I was, and she gave me a very suspicious look. I wonder what became of her?

Lake Yachiyo
In Japanese, 八千代湖. We drove by this place many times, but we went here once, the last year that we lived in Japan. During the spring, when the cherryblossoms were in full bloom, we packed a lunch and took it to Lake Yachiyo, and we ate lunch by the waters and then walked on the paths under the cherry trees, just [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I. I did like the other ohanami parties we went to--I especially liked the one in Shobara where we rented a rowboat--but that walk by Lake Yachiyo is one of my favorite ohanami memories.

And that's it! If people liked that, I can do another series for places in Hiroshima, or even other cities like Tokyo or Kyoto. I certainly have plenty to say if people want to hear it.  photo emot-c00l.gif
dorchadas: (Autumn Leaves Tunnel)
In what's apparently becoming a yearly tradition for us, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went out to the suburbs to visit my parents and go to the Scarecrow Festival. Much (maybe even most) of our visit was taken up by [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I looking around St. Charles and Geneva antique shops for either a coatrack or a kitchen sideboard, and we didn't find either of those, but we find a cute fox mug and had an opportunity to look at the trees in downtown Geneva, which was good because we didn't get to head down to the riverwalk and look at the trees this year.

Scarecrowfest 2014 Tree

It's no momiji, but it's pretty nice.

My parents walked near the river on Saturday and said that the trees down there were disappointing, though. It might just be that there aren't the right kind of trees there to get good fall colors.

Anyway, the main neat thing we did this year other than go see the scarecrows was go to Kuiper's Family Farm at [ profile] uriany's invitation. I knew there were these kind of farms around, because my parents moved to the western suburbs decades ago so they could be in an undeveloped area and while there's been some infill, it's still not far at all from their house to farms and cornfields, but I've never been to one until yesterday. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be--there were two sides, one for pumpkins and one for apples, and while we originally thought about picking apples, we realized that we already had too much stuff to haul back to our apartment, between the new foreman grill we had gotten at a thrift shop and all the White Wolf books we were hauling back. So we went to the corn maze instead.

2014 Kuiper's Family Farm Maze

As [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd said and as I told her I would put here, "It was a-maize-ing!"

I told [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd a while ago that I used to play tag in the corn fields out behind my house, and her response was, "That's so midwestern!" It was the only opportunity she's gotten to skewer me for my upbringing, and I was excited to show her this great example of our fine civilization, and it was pretty fun. They had set up three difficulty levels--we picked Medium--and being seasoned gamers, we stuck to following the left-hand wall around, which worked great until we started going in circles. Fortunately, we had picked up a "passport" at the entrance that had questions, and by answering them correctly at certain crossroads, we managed to make our way out after not too long.

I'm glad it was bright daylight, because not being able to see over the stalks and the occasional wind that came through and rustled them was were both pretty creepy. It was a lot like the beginning of Signs when it was more about mood before the faith allegory came to the fore.

2014 Kuiper's Family Farm Corn

The view from a bridge in the middle of the maze.

Other fun highlights include a tire pile that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd climbed and a slide she went down, a crow in a cage that said "Hello!" to us as we passed (the first time I've ever heard a crow say anything intelligible), and a giant store on the apple side where we got bread mix, coffee, an apple-shaped dish that we can put spoons on instead of resting them straight on the oven, and apple cider donughts. The first donughts I've had in probably half a decade, and yeah, they were pretty good.

The actual Scarecrow Festival was better than last year, with the whimsical category still the best. There was another Minecraft scarecrow this year, though just a zombie and the legs were a really odd shape. I was a little tempted to vote for it until we continued on and saw a Slender Man scarecrow, which I gave the vote to on the basis that it was both neat looking and the scarecrow most likely to actually be scary, especially if we had been alone in a cornfield. There were some other great ones, like the giant straw chicken or the explosion of rainbows, but I didn't take any pictures of them this year.

I also poked around my parents' basement while I was there, but maybe I'll make that another post.

Bonus: another leaf picture:
Read more... )

Graduation Time!

2014-May-12, Monday 18:14
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
Not mine, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's. After three years of schooling, on Wednesday she finally got her Education Specialist degree and is now fully qualified. Yay!

...well, other than having to finish out her internship. She mentioned that even though she was graduating, it didn't feel like much because she had to wake up and go to work the next morning. There's only a couple weeks of school left, after which she has to find something to do during the summer so she won't go insane, and then we'll be a DINK household once again.

I was surprised at how short the ceremony was, probably because I was remembering the enormous production that was my own graduation. It wasn't a general ceremony, though--it was just for the School of Education--so there were only about a hundred people there and the whole thing took maybe an hour and a half. The speaker was some guy from somewhere who gave a speech whose impact on me you can probably tell by how well I remember who he was. I was honestly a lot more affected by the way the announcer kept saying magnum cum laude instead of magna cum laude. It's petty and stupid and it annoyed me way out of proportion to the severity of the offence.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd has an official hood now, which she's occasionally been wearing as proof that she's equivalent to Superman. Sadly, it's not structured the right way for her to wear it as a wizard's cowl.

She'll probably be going back for a Doctorate in Education, but that's a question we'll deal with in a year or so. In the meantime, yay!

P.S.: 祭 (matsuri) isn't really the proper Japanese for this--graduation ceremony is 卒業式 (sotsugyou shiki)--but damned if I'm going to split tags that finely.
dorchadas: (Autumn Leaves Tunnel)
Last weekend was the Scarecrow Festival out in St. Charles, and after not having gone since before we moved to Japan,[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I decided to trek out to the suburbs and make a visit. I have to admit, it was pretty neat to see the way that our own subcultures have penetrated into the popular consciousness:
Click for geek )
And this is just fantastic:
Om nom nom )
But overall I wasn't that impressed. They've had some really impressive scarecrows in past years, but other than the ones [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd took pictures of, most of the ones this year were pretty conventional. There were also three or four from Despicable Me, but that would probably have impressed me more if I had actually seen the movie. Even the mechanical scarecrows, typically the best of the bunch, were disappointing. Several of them didn't even work, or at least didn't do anything that I could see. The only one I remember that actually moved was the high school rowing team one that moved the oars back and forth. I'm not sure if the other mechanical scarecrows were broken or what, but... The whole thing just didn't seem as good as it had been when I went a few years ago. Back in my day! etc. etc.

Okay, my parents went on Sunday and agreed with this assessment, so it's not just me getting old.

But, counteracting that counteraction of increasing age, after looking at the scarecrows, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I ducked into a nearby antique shop and poked around a bit. There was the standard collection of kitsch and crap--well, at least I think it's standard, since antique shopping isn't really a typical pastime of mine--but there were some pretty awesome gems, too. A Q-Bert arcade cabinet that might actually have been tempting except we have nowhere to put it. A bunch of WWII propaganda posters that sadly were not for sale, though with a note that they would be up for sale at a later date. I would have loved to get those if they were available. We did manage to find a pair of brass candlesticks to use for lighting Shabbat candles, and they look a lot better than the cheap glass dishes we were using before, and there were some dishes that would have been if we had any need for dishes, but we don't.

To backtrack a bit, on Friday we surprised my parents with our schedule and showed up that night. Without enough time to prepare dinner, they took us out to Open Range American Grill, which is all decorated a lot like the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, though with lighter wood and the views (read:pictures) are of the Grand Tetons. I mention this because it spurred a discussion against about how I want to take [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd on a trip to all the places that I visited on the various trips that my family took to Oregon when I was a child (maybe the subject for another entry?). My parents actually mentioned that next year would be a good time to go, except that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I were planning to take a trip to Germany and France to celebrate her graduating from grad school. It's theoretically possible that we could do both--my benefits are incredibly good--but that is a lot of summer vacationing, and maybe doing it in a following year is better. My sister is in California now, and she could meet us somewhere, or in Oregon when we arrive. It'd be great. Yeah, I think I will write that post.

On Saturday afternoon, we walked down to the Fox River and along the riverwalk looking at the leaves, and...well, it was incredibly disappointing. In Japan, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would go to Miyajima in the fall and look at the momiji trees as the leaves changed, and eat momiji manjū, and go view the leaves. Here's a momiji tree in the fall:

Momoji Tree Japan

That kind of bright crimson obviously does occur in America, but it's usually only a few leaves from a few plants, not a large amount. There were some promising trees on the walk down to the river, but once we got down there, everything was still green. I guess the warm temperatures have meant that the leaves haven't turned yet. Maybe I should look on the lakefront trail in a week or so--it's supposed to get down to 10 C or so starting on Friday.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
A couple days ago, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I took a bit of time to head down to Iwakuni for the Kintaikyou Matsuri. For those who don't know, 錦帯橋 is a famous bridge that's built in a series of arches over the river, and every spring, Iwakuni has as festival there that, in addition to the standard things you find at Japanese festivals, reenacts the processional of a daimyō returning home. That part was pretty neat, though we didn't stay very long to see much because it was extremely sunny out and neither of us had brought sunscreen.

There were a couple things of interest, though, other than pretty pictures of the bridge. The first was that they had set up kind of a flea market. Now, pretty much every Japanese festival has bunches of 屋台 (yatai, "[food] carts") all over the place, and usually they all look the same from festival to festival (which makes me wonder if there's some standard company that supplies them), but I've never seen much else for sale. This had all kinds of things--pottery, jewelry, clothing, even things like plants and farm tools. If we weren't leaving in a few months and if I didn't think most generic decorations not that great (I really like the spartan nature of traditional Japanese home), we might have bought something. But, we are and I do, so we didn't.

The second thing was that when we were walking through the park named after the town's founder, we heard a band playing a Sousa march. Since Iwakuni has an American military base, both [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had the same thought at the same time, but we were wrong. It was a local high school's brass band.


2011-Mar-02, Wednesday 02:44
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Well, it's not actually a green sky, because I modded it away.

I've been playing a lot of heavily-modded Fallout 3 lately (and somewhat neglecting both my Japanese studying and working on my novel). Last time I played, my game got more and more unstable as I went on, eventually reaching the point where it was crashing literally every 30 seconds if I was outdoors. I'm 40 hours in now and it crashes about once an hour--sometimes more frequently, sometimes less. That's actually pretty good, and if I can keep that level of stability I'll have no complaints.

My mod list, for the curious )

For anyone who's interested, I'll be happy to explain what any or all of those do.

I've also been working on/playing my Fallout PnP adaptation using ORE. As I (think I) said in a previous post, I'm running [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd through the plot of the original Fallout, which she has never played. It's been going well so far, though it's mostly been sticking to the plot of the game. Her character just joined the Brotherhood of Steel, and I'm planning on doing a bit more with that than the original game does (where being a member is basically "Hi, I'm here to take all your tech and then leave for months on end. Well, later!"). [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is having a lot of fun, at least partially because she has a lot better luck in ORE than she does in White Wolf games.

I'm having a lot of fun tinkering with the system. I'm about at the point where I should start making things up (and marking them as made up), to provide some surprises for people who have played Fallout. It's not entirely my work--the basic stuff was developed by a guy on the forums, who graciously agreed to share it with me--but I've been expanding it a lot. It makes me want to run it for a group, though I'd obviously need to make up my own plot then.

Last Sunday was the Yaenishi Bunkasai, and followed the tradition of similar local bunkasais in the past. Some people did karaoke, there were several exhibitions of hula dancing (called "Flower dances" in Japanese. They're inexplicably popular here), a story accompanied by pictures (there's a Japanese word for it, but I can't remember it Edit: 紙芝居 kamishibai, literally "paper play"), and, of course, the children doing a kagura performance of the first part of the story of Tamamo-no-Mae.

Our local eikaiwa (introduced as ジョイフルチーム, "Joyful team," though [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I both think they should have gone with "Hug my satsuma" based on a fondly-remembered screw-up during a game of telephone. Our students recited the story of the Three Little Pigs in English while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I provided a translation in the local dialect of Japanese, which is pretty different than standard. I won't bother putting in a list of the differences unless people ask, but suffice to say that when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was practicing at school, her teachers kept telling her parts were wrong because they, in the immortal works of rednecks the world over, "aren't from 'round here."

It's hard to believe we're only here for five more months. Chiyoda is probably my favorite place to have lived, ever. Still, if all goes well, we'll be back to Japan. And this time, we'll be able to understand everything. :p


2011-Feb-16, Wednesday 00:43
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
Not much to say about Valentine's Day itself. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went out to Michizure, the local slightly upscale restaurant. I suspect that it's also a hotel, since the building is huge and only the lower part is ever used for eating (it also seems to be empty all the time, so I have no idea how they make their money). I have to give them props for having some food that, when I ordered it 激辛 actually was "very spicy." They asked me if I would be okay when I ordered it, and then they brought out a huge glass of water with it. I actually probably should have just gotten it at regular level, because the extreme spicy drowned out any other flavor that it had--just sesame and burning. I'll have to try tantanmen at another time.

Last weekend, we spent most of it in Hiroshima City, except for the part we spent on Miyajima for the Oyster Festival. The festival was pretty small--mostly just selling food, which I suppose is in character for a festival about oysters. There was kagura as well, but we didn't stay to watch. What we did do, though, was eat. I had probably the best soup I have ever had there from one of the stalls. It was kind of like egg-drop soup, but apparently made using oyster-flavored soy sauce and with green onions (heh. The initial urge there is to type ネギ (negi). Just like I'll probably call bok choy 白菜(hakusai) for the rest of my life). We even got a packet of the soy sauce to try ourselves, so maybe I'll see if I can replicate it.

Other than that, we had oyster okonomiyaki, oysters in a garlic sauce, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had some oyster croquets. We did not, contrary to the post title, have any fried oysters. I just included it because it's an awesome word.

I also went to two gaijin bars in two nights, which is more than I usually go to in a year. The drinks were tasty, though, and not watered down like the karaoke places do during 飲み放題 (nomihoudai, "All you can drink") specials.

I just watched an article about Supper Clubs in Paris that was actually pretty inspiring. It makes me want to open a supper club when we move back to America. It wouldn't work here, obviously, because of spread-out nature of things and the rural area (it might work if we lived in the city), but since every university [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is looking at is in a major city, there will be plenty of people around. It'd be a nice way to meet people and keep me from descending into total moody hermit-dom.

*Sigh* There aren't enough hours in the day to study Japanese, work on my writing, keep up on the articles I read through RSS, eat, spend time with my wife, sleep, etc., and this is me without a job. I can only imagine how I'll fit things in when I go back.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
So, about a week ago, Kaminaka-san asked my help in performing a trick (well, loosely-defined) on his neighborhood. I was to impersonate a US ambassadorial aide with a message from President Obama.

Now, I've lived here for almost two and a half years. I'm pretty sure everyone knows who [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are, even if they might not know anything else about us, so I knew that they wouldn't actually believe the ruse. Nonetheless, I dressed up in a suit to keep the illusion at least partially intact and, it being a party, they played along with the speech. Here it is, if you want to read it:

In Japanese and English )

The speech went pretty much as I expected it would (I ended up getting complimented on my pronunciation, actually), and then I was given a seat and a bentō and chatted with people for a bit. The most interesting chat was with the 79-year-old man who told me about his daughter living in New Orleans when Katrina hit and how he had skied as a hobby for the past 70 years. He even mentioned one of the teachers who used to work at Chiyoda high school as a good person to go to if I ever wanted to learn how to ski (since I had told him I had never been).

He also asked me if liked living in Japan. Well, literally he asked me how was the Japanese lifestyle, but I knew what he meant. And I said yes, I really liked it, and that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I planned to return when she was done with grad school. And as I said that, I thought: "you know, that's right. I really do like living here." In fact, I'd say that in terms of places I've lived (not people who live there necessarily--I miss you all dearly), Japan is my favorite. I'm not sure I can point to any single reason why, but I can definitely say that on the balance, it's true.

Anyway, moving back is a long-term goal. We'll see how well it works out.

I was also invited to a middle-school children's class at the community center on Saturdays, but I wasn't able to understand exactly what kind of class it was. I wouldn't really feel comfortable going until I knew that. I can ask Kaminaka-san, I guess.

About an hour after I arrived at the party, I judged that I had spent sufficient time at the Itsukaichi New Year's party and told them that I had to get going, since the Yaenishi Tondo festival was the same day. I walked a couple of kilometers over to the festival and arrived late (that's three years in a row I've missed them lighting the bonfire (T_T) ), and was promptly loaded down with food and sake.

The most memorable part was when one of the Tondo organizers gave a brief speech, and then asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I to give a speech as well. So I gave a brief line about how everyone was incredibly kind to us, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did the same, and then we saw that Santa Miki was crying, and that made [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd cry, and everyone said aww when I gave her a hug.

But, the bigger thing is the reaction in general--someone cried because we're leaving. I know we've been here for years, but we keep a lot to ourselves and don't speak Japanese as well as we should. While we live here, I don't really know that people actually view us as part of the community. Or, at least, I didn't know until today. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised: [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is the teacher at the local high school (and two others beyond that), and both of us teach English lessons to children and adults. We spend a lot of time in Chiyoda because we're both here--unlike a lot of JETs or other ALTs, we don't need to go elsewhere to avoid loneliness to maintain a support network, so people see us around a lot (well, they see [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd a lot. I'm kind of a cave-dwelling troll). That's going to make leaving even harder than it already was.

It doesn't really have anything to do with living in Japan, per se, it's more living in a rural area. My friends in Hiroshima proper don't get their neighbors bringing them excess vegetables or rice or treats when they're sick, and I know those sorts of things happen in rural American areas. When we lived in an apartment building in America, we didn't know the names of any of our neighbors. We assumed one family was Indian, because we could frequently smell them cooking curry, but they might have just really liked curry. We knew one family had young children, because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd saw them coming home. But that's it. Here, though, people know us. Even if we're members of a different culture, and sometimes have problems communicating, this is our home.

That's a nice feeling.
dorchadas: (desu)
Yep, you read that right. It's not willingly, though. Two days ago, my laptop sudden began exhibiting extremely alarming behavior (read: freezing solid 3-5 minutes after starting up). Fortunately, I'd already backed up most of my important stuff (except my Morrowind installation with mods GRRRRRR), so if they have to replace it completely it's no big loss except for my saved games. Still...ugh.

We went to two festivals this week. The first was the Onomichi Port Festival, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got to dress up in a kimono. We went for a tour of the temples in the city after that, though we couldn't stay too long since we needed to return the kimono. Yesterday, we went to Sandankyou, a small town in the mountains, for their spring festival. While we arrived late (because I overslept) we still managed to see the end of a performance of Yamata no Orochi and stand in the crowd for the mochi-catching.

Afterwards, we went on a walk to find the waterfall (the aforementioned Sandankyou, which is something like "three-stepped falls." Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and went completely the opposite way. It was quite pretty, and there were a number of smaller waterfalls along the way, though, so it wasn't wasted time. It was a bit odd how there was a 1.5-meter-wide path along the edge of the river (4 meters or so below us, with rocks all around it) and no handrails anywhere. Safety first?

Wow. I'm slacking

2009-Nov-24, Tuesday 22:40
dorchadas: (Iocaine Powder)
I haven't written an LJ entry in over a month. To think that I used to write multiple entries a day.

The Suzugamine Culture Festival went really well. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd showed up and we went around and looked at the room displays, which were mostly about the trips that the different classes of students had taken (Etajima, Okinawa, and one class went to Bangladesh). The kanji writing went okay--I think that while my kanji was technically correct, it lacked artistry. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd told me that the old men in the audience with her were saying stuff like "ええ、祭?すごい!" (Wow, "matsuri"? That's amazing!"), so I impressed some people at least.

Most of my students who came up to us used it as an opportunity to tell [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd how cute she was or how white her skin was, which she gets everywhere, so that's nothing new. The only memorable part was when one student, who I will call Saki (for that is her name--咲, meaning "blossom"), followed up "You are cute" with "外国人になりたい" ("I want to be a foreigner"). That was a bit odd, though it's certainly a good story to tell the other teachers at Suzugamine. Having pale skin is huge in Japan--a lot of Japanese people tan really easily. You can tell especially with any of the students on the tennis or baseball teams. They tend to have very dark skin anywhere not under their uniform and pretty pale skin otherwise. Do not point this out to them.

Some of the teachers at Suzugamine kind of make me feel unwelcome, but just today I was talking with Yoshimi-sensei, one of the teachers I tutor in English, and she told me that they don't say hello to her either. In fact, she knew instantly who I was talking about without having to describe them, and said it was mostly the same teachers she didn't like when she was a student there, and now she says they haven't changed. The whole thing came about when she and the librarian (we meet in the library) asked me if I felt like I knew what was going on, and I said that sometimes I didn't but I didn't blame too many people. After all, there's a morning meeting every day where they explain what's going in, right? It's not their fault I don't speak super-formal Japanese enough to really understand it all. But she related an incident where she put up a poster and then got yelled at about how that was forbidden, and that other teachers too often don't tell you to do something and then get annoyed when you don't do it. Then we bitched a bit about teachers who wouldn't update their styles ("I've taught this way for 30 years! It worked then, it works now!"), and I taught them "The more things change, the more they stay the same," though not in the original French.

Last weekend was the first time since Tōkyō that I've been to karaoke. It was actually a lot more fun that it was then (because of the smaller number of people), and much more fun than in America. Unlike the "sing in front of the whole bar" way it's done in America, Japanese karaoke parlours have dozens of small private rooms that you rent out. You can order food and drink using the in-room phone that's sent up. They also have songs I actually want to sing, like Within Temptation's What Have You Done, Nightwish's Amaranth, and the ever popular Never Gonna Give You Up. Sadly, I did not manage to press the "pre-empt order" button for the last song. Anyway, I've learned that I need to go to karaoke more often because it's a ton of fun.

I've been spending time hacking the Cthulhutech system, specifically the psychic bits. I wrote a lot of extra powers (detailed here) and also deleted some of the extraneous rolls and the tendency for powers to cost an enormous amount. It's a good system at base, but it requires some changes to really work well. Then again, for the game I'm running, I have so little interaction with the system that I could probably run it using conflict-based resolution in Risus and not suffer a significant amount (Kily: Psychic 2, Therapist 5, Judo 2).

I may be becoming an actual RPG freelancer due to the aforementioned system hacks as well. More info maybe, depending on A) whether it happens at all or B) the terms of the inevitable non-disclosure agreement.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
And now, time for another update. They're rare because my life is a lot of sameness, so I save it until I have interesting things to report.

I got into a big discussion about health care with a libertarian acquaintance on Facebook. It went on for around two weeks, hit 70-something posts, and only ended because of his passive-aggressive status sniping and complaining that my posts were too long so he was only going to respond in person now (and then posting a Ron Paul interview on my wall the next day). His arguments were the usual libertarian idiocy--I can basically summarize them with, "Free market invisible hand free market rational actor free market government fails at everything free market income tax is theft RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRON PAUL!" and give you a good idea. There's a subsidiary discussion on my Facebook wall if anyone wants to read that for a more in-depth analysis.

The best comment was 'sociology has no impact on the market.' I'm a bit curious about this, because I thought he lived on Earth, but clearly he's from the Perfect Robot Future where frail meatbag weakness has been replaced with pure, flawless, metallic logic.

Suzugamine's cultural festival is next week. I've been asked to do some calligraphy at the festival, and I'm finding it more difficult than I thought I would. I'm going to write (matsuri, 'festival'), and that's not a problem. The problem is in public Japanese calligraphy, the way one writes the character is just as important as technical proficiency. So if I just draw straight lines with minimal flourish and get it perfect, it's still not a good performance. That's proving a bit difficult for me. I practice again on Wednesday.

Last weekend was the fall festival in Chiyoda. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I thought there would be food stands and so on around, but we went all over the place and didn't find them. We eventually went to the Arima (our local neighborhood) community center and found out that that's where everyone had gone. There were the traditional kagura performances, including one comedy version of "Tamamo-no-Mae" where the warriors had hard hats and the monk, when Tamamo-no-Mae transformed into a fox and tried to eat him, pulled out a gun and shot her. We also had oden, which was actually good this time. My previous experience with it was last year, but it was only lukewarm when I had it and oden is designed to be served hot.

On the geek-RP front, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is finally running a game for me. It's a dark fantasy game using nWoD as system and reference material (using this thread, written by John Snead, one of the freelancers for White Wolf, as the basis and expanding from there), drawing on Vampire Hunter D, Claymore, and so on for inspiration. It's pretty awesome to actually get to play in a face-to-face game after spending literally years just running. I even used Campaign Cartographer to make a map of the campaign area, though it lacks a lot of detail (because we're going to fill it in in play).

Scribblenauts is fun, and the Large Hadron Collider is hax. That is all.

OMG festivals

2009-Jun-07, Sunday 19:55
dorchadas: (Genbaku Park)
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to a festival yesterday in Hiroshima City called Tokasan. It's pretty big, but we didn't stay for very long. The main reason its famous is that it starts the yukata-wearing season for festivals in Japan. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got a yukata a few months ago, and she's been waiting a long time to wear it (and has been dreaming to wear for since she was a child), so she was super excited. The shop where we bought it put it on for her for free, even though there was a waiting list, which was very kind of them to do so. We wandered around, ate some festival food, and went to the shrine the festival is named after that you're traditionally supposed to go to and pray (though I don't know what you're supposed to pray for). Most of the stuff was happening in the evening, which we weren't staying for, so we missed the dancing and so on. It was still a lot of fun, though. Maybe next year.

Today, Kaminaka-san invited us to Mibu no Hanadaue, a festival that has taken place in Chiyoda (formerly called Mibu, hence the name) for over 500 years. There was the usual assortment of festival food available, but we ate udon in a hundred-year-old restaurant on the other side of Chiyoda and then saw the procession of the bulls (used to smooth down the mud in the rice field) and the dancers and drummers (who perform the actual planting). Apparently, the ceremony's purpose is to alert Sanbai-san, the local mountain god who is also the god of rice planting, that its time to come down off the mountain and help ensure a good crop for the year. The main festival involves a rice field which is ceremonially planted to the beat of drums by local women. It was pretty neat, and we took a bunch of pictures.

We also kept getting our picture taken by people, presumably because we're foreigners coming to Chiyoda's famous UNESCO-recognized cultural treasure (500 years old, remember?), which was kind of neat, but a little weird too. And we found a part of Chiyoda with shops and restaurants we didn't know existed. We'll have to check it out some time.

The best part of the speeches during the ceremony was when the announcer said: "Sanbai-san, ganbatte kudasai." Roughly, "Sanbai, please do your best (to make the rice a good crop)."
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
It seemed to go pretty well. My worst fear (running out of stuff to teach and frantically having to improvise) didn't materialize. I actually went a couple minutes over as a large chunk of my session ended up being devoted to giving a background on the history of Israel, because the class wasn't really familiar with it. They're supposed to get back to me later this week. I didn't ask what I could have improved on at the end, which was a mistake, but hopefully not a bad one. I also had to explain things like "by the same token" and "to finger" (in the sense of "to blame" or "to point out"), rather than stuff like "imprimatur." I suppose that's because single, non-metaphorically-used words are easy to look up in the dictionary. One of the students from our adult class sent me an e-mail asking the meaning of "to chug" (Sentence: "But the research has been quietly chugging along for decades"). She looked it up and got the other colloquial meaning and was really confused.

Sunday was the neighborhood 文化祭>bunkasai (cultural festival). Our children's English class sang two songs there, and I got to conduct. It's a good thing I had my band experience to draw back on! They did pretty well, considering most of them only know what English we've taught them and what they've picked up from popular culture. The other acts were mostly karaoke, Hawai'ian-style dancing (called "Flower dancing" in the program), traditional Japanese dancing, and one group of 15 women who played a couple songs on massed koto. It ended with a children's kagura performance of the first part of Tamamo no Mae by a group of the neighborhood children (and in which the part of the kitsune was played by the most incorrigible of our students, to our great amusement). We also had to go up and give a quick self-introduction. We did our best in Japanese, but at the end we had to switch to English and have someone translate (when he asked "Why do you stay out here in the country in Chiyoda?"). It was neat. :)


dorchadas: (Default)

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