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Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas in Japan

If you've been following this blog for a while (thank you!), you might know that I'm not particularly fond of this time of the year: it's too fake, too frantic, too commercial. Especially in Japan.

The Christmas tree in the KITTE building in Marunouchi

I try to avoid Christmas as much as possible, although I make exceptions for mulled wine and Starbucks's Cranberry Bliss Bar.

Oh, and I bought a small stollen the other day. It was delicious.

I recently read an excellent summary about Christmas in Japan on Here's an excerpt:
The jolly man from the North Pole also featured in the early days of one distinctive aspect of festive Japan, the association of Christmas Eve with romance. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact beginning of the tradition, a 1983 special feature in women’s magazine An An on winning your man’s heart is thought to have been influential, as is singer Yamashita Tatsurō’s 1983 hit of lost love "Kurisumasu ibu" (Christmas Eve). 
Matsutōya Yumi’s 1980 song "Koibito ga Santa Kurōsu" (Santa Claus Is My Sweetheart) played its part too, reimagining portly Santa as a dream lover …So Santa had a guest role, at least, in the move toward including couples and romance alongside families and presents, 
Meanwhile, in the last few decades Kentucky Fried Chicken has exploited the resemblance between Colonel Sanders and Santa to dress up the former as the latter and turn Christmas into a chicken-based holiday. Many Japanese people think the season is not complete without a trip to KFC.
Here's "Kurisumasu ibu" as used in JR commercials and "Koibito ga Santa Kurōsu". I find it very hard to watch either without dissolving into hysterical laughter, but that might have more to do with the era … oh, boy, 1980s hair and 1980s fashion! … than the sentiment.

The only deliberately Christmassy thing I did this year was to walk to Marunouchi to look at the famous Christmas tree in the KITTE building, and then I ambled along to Hibiya Park and photographed a few more trees. Photos:

Not sure why costumes from Takarazuka were displayed in KITTE, except that the theatre is in the neighbourhood.

I often see similar signs at sightseeing spots, and they always make me grin.
Photographers in Japan can apparently not decide for themselves
where they should take a shot. No, they have to be instructed.
"Stand here. No, not there, here. Move 2 cm to the left. OK, stop."

Kiddies at the KITTE tree. If they're in a nursery school in Marunouchi, Daddy must be earning a fair amount.
(It might be Mommy, but I'm betting my own meagre salary on Daddy. This is Japan.)

I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't geddit at first. I knew the tree was from Alice in Wonderland, but
I caught myself thinking, "Who's Yaw Taht? There's no Yaw Taht character in this story, is there?"


This is Red Brick Square in Marunouchi, one of my favourite squares in central Tokyo.

The Alice in Wonderland tree in Red Brick Square

The Cheshire Cat! (^0^)

I love this square. I have a nasty suspicion it's because it's so European.

You can buy real Christmas trees in Tokyo, but they're expensive. The biggish one at the back was ¥35 000.

This one was ¥7000, if I remember correctly.

This is The Peninsula Hotel. That suite at the top is called the Peninsula Suite,
and it will cost you more than a million yen a night.

Silly tree in front of the Peninsula Hotel. IDK. It's supposed to be arty?

Godzilla is in his hometown Tokyo to celebrate New Year. This small statue stands in Hibiya, in front of
the Chanter Center. I find it giggle funny that there are wedding dresses in the background.

Selfie. You decide whether I'm referring to the statue or the reflection
on the right. The statue is in front of the Yūrakuchō Denki Building.

Some fairytale Christmas thingie in the Shin-Marunouchi Building.
You have to pay to see it. I didn't.

Another selfie between some fairytale character and some other fairytale character. Cinderella?

Hibiya Park plants covered against the cold.

They remind me of some very prim proper Protestants going to church.

Cute hat!

Tokyo Station celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. I love this station.

This yellow bike on yellow leaves made me smile.

Another African in Tokyo! This statue is in Nakadori,
an upmarket shopping street in Marunouchi.

I leave you with the King's College Choir. This is how it should be done. Happy Christmas to those who celebrate it; happy holidays to those who don't.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Unsolicited advice for eikaiwa students

Notwithstanding how English is sold in Japan, it's not your teacher's job to entertain you, or to fill empty hours when you don't know what to do with yourself. It's true that learning English can be and possibly even should be fun, and you're allowed to think of your teacher as a host/ess. However, if you accept that learning a language requires blood, sweat and tears as well as laughter, you know what?, you just might actually improve.

If you've spent a fortune on English lessons mainly because it's a better hobby than "cleaning my room", OK, we'll pretend to teach and you'll pretend to learn.

When you arrive late with the excuse "sorry for late", don't be surprised when your teacher looks slightly disgruntled. It's not because we’re angry that you kept us waiting. Our school pays us whether you arrive or not. We really don't mind if you don't. 

It's not a good idea to have a lesson very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning when you’re still recovering from the previous night's izakaya session. So is your teacher.

Neither is it a good idea to book the last two lessons on a Saturday or Sunday. Your teacher will inevitably be gatvol after 8 to 10 lessons of not exactly scintillating small talk.

Do not assume that your teacher is American.

Do not assume that your blond, blue-eyed teacher is a Christian.

Please don't attempt to educate your teacher about Christianity, Judaism or Islam. The chances are truly minuscule that you know more about these religions than your teacher, even if said teacher is an atheist.

Do not assume that your teacher is able to spell correctly, write well or understand grammar. Use it, yes. Understand its DNA, no.

I'm not saying the TOEIC test is useless. I am saying it's deeply flawed.

Oh, all right, it's useless.

Do not, I repeat do NOT, come to class when you're very sick. Don't wear your mask. Don't take off your mask. STAY. AT. HOME. The classrooms are small and stuffy, and we're stuck in there with a sick sniffing coughing hawking person, and we hate it.

Sometimes the teacher says "well done" because it really was well done. Sometimes the teacher says "well done" because the truth would be unpalatable and all is fair in love and war. 

Do not be surprised if your teacher has no insight into Japan. Do not be surprised if that insight exceeds yours.

Do not assume that your teacher is in Japan for only one year to have sex with as many Japanese women as possible.

Actually, as far as that previous one is concerned, maybe …

PS: Also, he might prefer guys.

Do not use the phrase "we Japanese". I have neither the blog space nor the mental energy to explain why. Just don't. Rather come to class early on a Saturday, with Ebola, and ask the teacher to explain the vocative case as used in the King James Bible, or the difference between "Bless thou the LORD" and "Bless ye the LORD", and while we're at it, please note the capital letters and that British English prefers the comma outside the quotation marks if it's not a full sentence.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Hello Kitty and the siege of the ivory tower

This damn cat is everywhere. I was going to use an equivalent expression with f's …

We interrupt ourselves with a dilemma that only a copyeditor / copy-editor / copy editor would understand.

Do you realize that it's not that simple to write the plural of a letter of the alphabet?

The Chicago Manual of Style: "Capital letters used as words, numerals used as nouns, and abbreviations usually form the plural by adding s. To aid comprehension, lowercase letters form the plural with an apostrophe and an s." So, how many Cs in occasion but mind your p's and q's.

Then you dive into The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage; The Times Style and Usage Guide; The Guardian Style Guide; The Associated Press Stylebook; the much-maligned Elements of Style by Strunk and White; A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations; Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers; Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

Then you curse, eat chocolate, curse again and decide that you don't like f's: an apostrophe is for a possessive or a missing letter, not a plural. So you curse again, eat more chocolate and start again.

This damn cat is everywhere. I was going to use an equivalent expression with Fs – figure it out! – but then decided that propriety would prevail.

She has even infiltrated the sanctum sanctorum of Japan, the holiest of holies, the University of Tokyo. You can buy this file in the so-called Co-op, the shop on the university's Hongō campus:

I photographed it: a random photo that was taken at a random moment and randomly posted on Google+. A week later it's had 11 527 views, which is high for a page with a very small followership. Heh: the Followership of the Barbarian.

I once wrote a rather highfalutin post (link) about the Hello Kitty phenomenon. It has to be suitably swotty, since Ms Kitty is, after all, an alumna of above-mentioned institute. 

I'm not going to repeat everything, but I do want to quote myself in this paragraph, written almost three years ago:
What I can't figure out is why women would want to identify with her, or is this identification in itself a denial of adulthood and its unpleasant aspects? "Let me stay a small girl so that Daddy can always look after me; then I don't have to deal with nasty things like decisions and responsibilities."
I was therefore not surprised at all I read the following in a women's magazi …

I interrupt myself again. I never read women's magazines, except at my hairdresser, where there's nothing else to read except whatever I've got stored on my Kindle app. When I'm ensconced under a plastic cape, though, I page through monster publications more hefty than The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (240 000 entries and 1 728 pages). How can you read these magazines without turning into Anderson?

Mind-numbing rubbish about fashion and make-up and socialites and How To Be A Powerhouse Businesswoman While Achieving Orgasms In The Boardroom With The Help of Kegel Exercises And The New Stud Muffin In Sales.


I was not surprised at all when I glanced at the January 2015 issue of Marie Claire UK, which has an article entitled "The 8 Billion Dollar Cat".

Serendipity, and the fact that that damn cat is everywhere. She's more everywhere than elephants, and we all know that elephants follow me and that I follow trails of elephant dung. If you don't know it, you're new on this blog, aren't you?

The article quotes "Manhattan-based marriage and family therapist Dr Paul Hokemeyer", who says as follows:

I read his name as Pokemeyer, of course, but let's get back on topic.

Just after that article, Dru posted this article on Google+:
If you’re heading to Gunma Prefecture, soon one indoor hot spring will give you the chance to soak in the company of Hello Kitty.
Japan’s hardest working feline is branching out into yet another new venture as part of a tie-up with the Shima Grand Hotel … From January 9, the Meruhen no Yu is getting even more visual appeal, in the form of new Hello Kitty decorations, which will let you relax while gazing at the Sanrio icon.
While only guests of the hotel have access to the Meruhen no Yu, anyone is welcome to stop by the hotel’s Café Furo Resta, also scheduled to open January 9. Once again, Hello Kitty plays a starring role in the decor, appearing dressed in both kimono and hakama, the billowing pants which were especially popular among young women during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Aside from dining on fare such as curry and Japanese desserts made with locally grown sweet beans, visitors will be able to take pictures with the retro-clothed Kitty, and, of course, special limited-edition Hello Kitty merchandise is likely to be on sale as well.

Alternatively you can book a Hello Kitty room in the Keio Plaza Hotel:

Don't forget to take your disciplining partner.


Riding crop.


Edit added 15 December because this is just too good to ignore. I discovered it this morning when I Googled "Hello Kitty South Africa" (link).

The Hello Kitty Dictionary, published by Harper Collins, describes a necklace as "a piece of jewellery which a woman wears around her neck" and then adds "in South Africa, a name for a tyre filled with petrol which is placed round a person’s neck and set on fire in order to kill that person". Oh dear. I suppose one cannot shield young children from life's harsher realities for ever, but this might not be the best way to go about it. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

This one's for Cubie

Hallo, Cubie! You asked me about the most glorious ginkgo in the world, and here I am, on Africa time, with an answer and a report. The big ginkgo always changes later than all the other trees at the University of Tokyo. I'm not sure why: perhaps it's simply because there's an awful lot to change! I took these photos with my smartphone, because I don't lug along my big camera every day; and both days were overcast and drizzly. So thus and therefore, the photos aren't particularly good. Excuses excuses excuses. Here we go:

4 December 2014


11 December 2014

Next week it will be over, and the bare trees will cast long shadows through a long winter.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Autumn at Heirin-ji

Heirin-ji, my favourite autumn spot in (or rather near; it's in Saitama) Tokyo. I've written about it before (link), and there's nothing to add except ... egad, gadzooks, zounds and zooterkins, the crowds! Please remember that my definition of "crowd" is 10+. When it reaches a level of thousands, I start panicking. What am I doing in Tokyo then? As I've explained before, I don't know. Next question? Anyway, I usually arrive at this temple so early that I'm already in line when the gate opens at 9 am, but this year I went much later. So many visitors, and 99% of them at least 99 years old. Help. Shoot me when I'm 75. No, really. Read this.

Not particularly autumnish, but I have to start with this one.

The further you move from the main temple, the quieter the paths.

Not Heirin-ji, but along the way from the station to the temple (above and below)


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