Google+ Rurousha 流浪者

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Oops!

When you make a mistake, especially a public one, for heaven's sake don't be a politician and try to hide it. Admit it, say sorry and move on. Plenty more to make.

I misread a Blogger notice and thought it applied to the current situation, but instead it was a notice that cancelled an earlier notice, but maybe it still means that look actually perhaps ...

#Idon'tknowwhat'sgoingonI'mfromAfrica.

I do know that notoriety that I thought was mine at last? Not. Drat.

I missed a huge brouhaha last month when Google announced, in an email to NSFW bloggers, that it would ban blogs with explicit content. Life is what happens while you're distributing porn planning a new academic writing syllabus.

That notice says/said: 
In the coming weeks, we’ll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video. We’ll still allow nudity presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking action on the content. The new policy will go into effect on the 23rd of March 2015. After this policy goes into effect, Google will restrict access to any blog identified as being in violation of our revised policy. No content will be deleted, but only blog authors and those with whom they have expressly shared the blog will be able to see the content we’ve made private.
I write about Edo's history. It wasn't exactly a city of genteel ladies sipping tea, composing haiku and swooning delicately under cherry blossoms. Well, that, too, but not only that. It was also about beheadings and prostitution and fertility festivals.

Google's first announcement was met with such outrage that they've decided to maintain the status quo. Various other bloggers and experts have advised me that no action is necessary for my specific blog, despite a few dickpeditions, grin, so it remains up for now.

I would like to migrate to my own domain name, but I'll have to do my research first.

Special thanks to A.V.Flox (excellent writer; read her), Brian Kemper, Meg L, J. Helmi, Dmitri Popov, Hinomaple, Toby Oxborrow and many others (yell if I've left you out!) for their suggestions, ideas and virtual cuppa tea to calm down a snarling Ru.

I don't know how active I'll be in the next few months, because I'll be teaching at an eikaiwa as well as two universities, but at least I'll still do a few cherry blossom posts and … if all goes according to plan … perhaps I can do a post about the Festival of the Steel Phallus after all. More to follow.

Sorry, Google, and thanks for being a sport. Oops.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Shinjuku's fertility shrine

I watched the tourists. I'm not sure why they were there, but perhaps …

1) their guidebook had told them that this is one of the most important shrines in Tokyo,
2) or they were nearby and the shrine is right there, in the heart of Shinjuku,
3) or they were slumming it up in Kabukichō.

Whatever their reason, they walked in, huddled in groups, looked bewildered, wandered around, looked befuddled, walked out.


Meantime I was standing right underneath the shrine's most interesting attraction, and the tourists – and I suspect many of the local visitors – were blissfully unaware of it.

"You see, but you don't observe," in the words of the immortal Sherlock Holmes.

Though one could argue that tourists look, but don't even see.

Anyway, before I continue, please be warned ...

I had to edit my original post. I was going to warn you that I would publish photos of a phallic carving, but then I received a dire warning from Google that "porn blogs" would be deleted (see previous post). So I'll tell you the story but I can't show you the photos.

If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll be aware of my interest in phallic stones. I find it delightfully quirky that the biggest metropolis in the world, a modern city of skyscrapers and a fiber-optic internet network, still has ancient phallic stones in unexpected places that nobody knows about. I'd much rather search out these old monuments to the gods of fertility than visit whatever the modern pop culture equivalent in Akihabara is.

If you want to see the wooden carving, you'll have to follow this link, since I'm apparently not allowed to publish my own photos on my own blog, but a Google Images search will still take you to other blogs. THIS IS RIDICULOUS!

It adorns a small Inari shrine called Itoku Inari Daimyōjin (威徳稲荷大明神), which you can find at the more famous Hanazono Jinja (花園神社)  in Shinjuku.


It's an Inari shrine, i.e. dedicated to the god of rice and, by implication, fertility. It's believed that you can pray here for a happy relationship and children, courtesy of Makkachin. Yup. Apparently the phallic sculpture is nicknamed Makkachin, which refers to the red colour of an American crayfish. However, caution, it's mentioned in passing on Japanese blogs, but I couldn’t verify it in official resources. Where in heaven's name would you find an "official resource" for such a topic?

Makkachin also bestows good luck on businesses. It doesn't specify which kind of business, but a gentle reminder that Kabukichō is just around the corner.

If you want to see it, it's in the small Inari shrine to the right of the main shrine (facing the main shrine). Walk through a narrow passage of red torii, right up to the shrine itself, and then look up. The sculpture is fitted between the two top bars of the last torii. Since everything is painted lobster red, and given that most people remain oblivious to the world around them thanks to their bloody smartphones, and taking into account that I'm probably regarded as odd by your average person … it's perhaps understandable why nobody notices it (or if they do, they're very discreet) and why there's no information about this on English sites. Now there is. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the big dick in the flower garden.


That's what Hanazono means: flower garden.

The shrine was first established in the middle of the 17th century during the early Edo period. The land surrounding the shrine was once part of the Imperial Gardens. During the 1830s and 1840s the shrine was surrounded by fields which were famous for bell peppers and squash known as Naito bell peppers and Naito squash. The shrine has been destroyed by fire numerous times, but it's still here, in the heart of Shinjuku, dwarfed by tall buildings.

The shrine hosts a flea market (including antiques) on Sundays.




I find it a rather bland shrine with too much concrete and not enough atmosphere, but it certainly hides unexpected treasures. Two: the wooden sculpture and, behind the tiny Inari shrine, another phallic stone. Photo censored.

So there you have it. May Inari bless you with whatever your heart desires.

To my shrinepedition companion: Thanks. It was fun. ;)

PS: I'm actually thoroughly pissed off at this point. My original headline was "Ru goes on a dickpedition in Shinjuku". I thanked my "bigdickpedition" companion. I had more photos. I had to self-edit all that, and it infuriates me. If I do believe in a god, it's the god of freedom of speech. Publish and be damned. I'll have to think about moving to a different platform.






PPS: No. Sod this for a lark. I will not apply censorship. I grew up in South Africa, where press censorship helped to ensure a sick, skewed, racist society. Bye-bye, Blogger, it was nice to have known you. I'm off to other platforms.

I'm not going to delete my blog or turn it private. Let's see what Google does. I trust they won't delete it without at least a warning. Various other sites have linked to my blog – some of those sites rather scholarly themselves – so who knows what's going to happen.

To my readers and followers, the year ahead will be a crazy one, since I'll be teaching at a conversation school and two universities. I won't have any free time from next month onward, and blogging will become well-nigh impossible anyway. I will probably continue my presence on Google+, but we'll have to see if that works out.

To new readers, if you expected smut and filth, you may be disappointed. It's all a bit academic, but you'll find references to naughty stones and prostitution in Edo if you search a bit.

To everybody, thank you, from a very humble and slightly overawed nomad, for reading my scribbles for so many years. It's been a wonderful experience, and I've made lifelong friends thanks to this blog.

Dankie.

Now I have a porn blog?

Oh, Google ...

So you might kill my blog because I've written about fertility shrines and phallic stones and Edo's prostitutes?

Apparently"porn blogs" will be killed if they don't change their privacy settings, and this blog might qualify. (Edited a bit later: No. They won't be killed immediately, but they might be muted, i.e. made private or "by invitation only".)

Interestingly enough the post I've just finished is about another fertility shrine.

I understand (intellectually) why Google is doing this, but tell me one reason why I should stay on Blogger with my tongue-in-cheek but at least serious posts about Japan's Shinto rituals and old customs and history? Not impressed. Instead of punishing bloggers, why don't you go after child porn sites a bit more enthusiastically?

I mean nee allamagtag! I have to warn people about "adult content" for a few posts about history and culture, and hence colour my entire bluestocking blog into a blue movie?! Blogger, do you know who I am? I'm an old spinster nerd!  COME ON!

Here's the explanation:

An update on the Blogger porn content policy

This week, we announced a change to Blogger’s porn policy stating that blogs that distributed sexually explicit images or graphic nudity would be made private.
We’ve received lots of feedback about making a policy change that impacts longstanding blogs, and about the negative impact this could have on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities.
We appreciate the feedback. Instead of making this change, we will be maintaining our existing policies.

What this means for blog owners

  • Commercial porn will continue to be prohibited.
  • If you have pornographic or sexually explicit content on your blog, you must turn on the adult content setting so a warning will show. If a blog with adult content is brought to Google’s attention and the content warning is not active, we will turn on the warning interstitial for you. If this happens repeatedly, the blog may be removed.
  • If you don't have sexually explicit content on your blog and you're following the rest of the Blogger Content Policy, you don't need to make any changes to your blog.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Finally, finally!, spring

Whatever god you pray to, or none, this poem Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins  remains relevant. It's spring in Tokyo. I wish to announce that my windows and balcony doors are wide open for the first time this year.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.


To continue the god theme, my sincerest thanks to all 8 million in Japan. Spring has arrived just in time: I was so tired of winter that I was ready to commit acts of violence, destruction and mayhem ... upon myself.

This morning, after a work-related meeting, I walked home via Ueno Park, where the early cherry trees have started blossoming. The tourists were out in force. So were the selfie sticks. What a ridiculous invention! The police, too, were standing outside the koban, enjoying the glorious sunshine.



The main event, the blossoming of the Somei Yoshino trees, will start on the 26th in Tokyo. I'll do my best to visit at least one new place. (You know me: determined to discover a new cherry spot each year. I've got one in mind, but let's wait for Mission Successful before we say another word.)

Meantime, enjoy!

PS: I haven't visited other blogs for a long time. The new academic year starts soon. That's why.




Finally, a picture that summarizes Ueno so beautifully: cherry tree on the right, adult movie theatre on the left. Ueno is scruffy and grungy and rough around the edges, and I adore it.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

When yucky becomes yummy

When I first heard about a KitKat that could be baked, I snorted. "Bah humbug gimmick hmph," I muttered. When I realized it had a cheesecake flavour, I choked. Ugh.  Baked cheese chocolate?! 

Then I innocently walked into a Natural Lawson, spotted a pile of them and once again -- the story of my life -- became a victim of my own curiosity. I bought one ...


Yes. Well. I bought two. One has to research these matters properly. The whole point of science is that you need an experiment that can be duplicated in order to verify your data.

Anyway, I bought two, baked them and now I'm in love. This could very well turn into my all-time favourite flavour.

The chocolate melts quickly and turns brown on top. It doesn't taste like cheese at all; as a matter of fact, it reminds me of condensed milk. I love the warm, gooey, sweet mess that it turns into. Yum.




Monday, 23 February 2015

Narrow land, narrow homes

Japan is not a small country, despite a widespread belief that this is gospel. It's the 61st biggest country in a list of 234, which ain't too bad. You can see the full list here, but I include a brief summary in km².

Vatican City                  0.4
Netherlands          41 543
Great Britain      229 848
Germany            357 022
Japan                  377 960
California           423 971*
South Africa    1 219 090
Australia          7 692 024
Russia            17 098 242

* Not a country, but my students are always telling me very proudly that Japan is smaller than California. Duh. California has to be big to accommodate all those Hollywood egos.

So, the statement "Japan is a small country" is not entirely correct. What is correct is that its habitable land surface is only 33% of the country; the rest is mountains. 33% of 377 960 =
124 726.8 = just bigger than North Korea, which is number 98 on that list. (I'm pedantic. It's an INTJ thing. Live with it.)

What is also correct is that it's a narrow country, in more ways than one.

I show these stats to my students, and I can see their brains stutter to a stop. Japan is a small country, period, their geography teacher said so in elementary school. Small, poor in resources, vulnerable.

South Africa, on the other hand, is generally assumed to be a very rich country by said students.

I give up.

Doesn't matter anyway, does it, since size doesn't count?

Hell, yes, it does. When it comes to houses, it does, and this is where Tokyo fills me with a combination of respect, horror and terror. Mostly terror.

Tokyo has a population density of 33 000 people per square kilometer. (I try not to think of this, because I'd go mad.) A total of 42.53% of Tokyo's population lives in single households. (Therein lies another story.) That means a lot of small houses. Suffocatingly tiny if you're a child of Africa's wide open savanna.
  
I lived in an apartment of 18 m² when I first arrived in Tokyo. I now live in just under 50 m², which is a tad expensive, but either my bank account dies or I die. My current apartment has other advantages: it's almost square, which increases the impression of space; it has unusually big windows; and it's on the 11th floor with no tall buildings in front of it. It's ludicrous compared to the 250 m² house and 500 m² garden I had in Stellenbosch, but it's the best I can do in Tokyo.

During the past three months, I've been observing the construction of a house in my neighbourhood with interest and alarm.

It's a house. Presumably it costs more than an apartment. It's the size of three single garages on top of each other. Basically.

Here's the empty plot after the previous house was torn down. 




Then they started construction. There's a bit of concrete at the bottom; the rest is wood and what seems to be a kind of plastic. The bathroom seems to be on the bottom floor, the second floor is probably living space, the top floor seems to be a loft-type thingie or perhaps storage space. It has burglar bars, which is unusual.





I marvel at this house. It cannot be cheap, and it's so small, and it offers zero privacy, and gadzooks it must be cold in winter. It's also noisy, with those thin walls, right on the street, next to a yochien (kindergarten), and near a park and an elementary school. 




Yet somebody wants to live there, and is undoubtedly very proud of this sparkling new house, and that brings me back to my own conflicting emotions: do we admire Tokyo residents for their small carbon footprint and ability to make do in limited spaces, or do we run screaming into the desert to sleep under the great Andromeda?

PS: I'm hopelessly late with comments on other posts. I'm currently operating on a scale that's a few aeons behind Africa time. I think my 6-dimensional Calabi–Yau manifold has collapsed. I don't know when I will get to everything. It depends whether Ω > 1 or Ω < 1.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Tamagawa Daishi, a temple for sheep and godly guts

I promised you a sheep, so here’s your sheep. Or rather, here are your sheep, since there are two of them.

This is the year of the sheep, according to Chinese astrology, which means temples and shrines with a sheep connection, however tenuous, will be more popular than usual.

Yes, dear hearts, of course there are sheep shrines and temples!

Because Japan.

Sheep statue at Tamagawa Daishi

The two shrines that got the most attention in the media at the beginning of the year were Hitsuji Jinja (羊神社) in Nagoya and Hitsuji Jinja (羊神社) near Isobe Station in Gunma. = the zodiac sign of the sheep. Read more about them here.

Tokyo itself has two places of worship with a sheep association, Ōkunitama Jinja (大国魂神社) and Tamagawa Daishi (玉川大師), but the connection requires a bit of explanation. Hang in there; I'll keep it short.

Source: http://gigazine.net/news/20150101-hitsuji-shrine/

Source: http://gigazine.net/news/20150101-hitsuji-shrine/

Ōkunitama Jinja

The god that is enshrined at Ōkunitama Jinja is Kunitama, a very old deity that's regarded as the spirit of the land. He's associated with the sign of the sheep, for reasons that I haven't been able to figure out, but several Japanese sites refer to this connection (link, link, link).

I wrote about Ōkunitama Jinja at length in this post.

Tamagawa Daishi

This temple is associated with sheep because … this is getting embarrassing … I'm not sure, but I know it's a Shingon temple and all Shingon temples are associated with the sign of the sheep.

Furthermore, the temple has an underground corridor that symbolizes the intestines of Dainichi Nyorai (大日如来), known as Vairocana in Sanskrit, who's the embodiment of the Buddhist concept of emptiness. He's also associated with the sign of the sheep.

Don't ask me what the link is between gods and guts and quadrupedal, ruminant mammals. I know not. All I know is that Tamagawa Daishi has two sheep statues, so instead of fretting over reasons, let's just accept that lambs doth gambol here.

Tamagawa Daishi

Sheep statue at Tamagawa Daishi

Thus we went walkpeditioning

What a demotion: the intrepid elephant huntress was in pursuit of sheep! To add insult to injury, in an area that she tends to avoid at all costs: Futako-Tamagawa. I enjoyed my little excursion, though, since FT (I keep wanting to write pffft!) is an amusing place.

It's as Western as it gets in Tokyo: a plethora of European/American brand name shops, French restaurants and hair stylists. Crikey moses, there are many hair stylists in FT, but I guess the Ladies Who Lunch have to look their best. Talking of which, it's an impressive collection of coiffed, coutured, manicured and pedicured females. They all look exactly the same: camel-coloured coats, black pencil skirts, black tights, black stiletto boots that would kill me in 13 seconds flat, bangs, long hair layered and curled just so around the face, generous lashings of face powder, false eyelashes, false nails, probably falsies as well.

Meantime I was marching along in my beloved hiking boots and faded 20-year-old Levis and too big coat-that-looks-like-a-blanket, with a haphazard ponytail and a red nose (it was cold!) and, as per usual, zero makeup. Probably, as per usual, with a scowl as well.

Especially when I walked past a very noisy elementary school. Japan has a birthrate problem? Really? Not in FT, where the Ladies Who Lunch clearly devote some of their energy to begetting, producing and dressing-in-Dolce&Gabbana the next generation.

Why are kids so loud?

Anyway. Sheep. We're supposed to talk about sheep.

Tamagawa Daishi, built in 1925, is primarily famous for the twisting 100-meter corridor underneath it. This corridor, symbolizing the intestines of Dainichi Nyorai, includes 300 Buddha statues, 33 Kannon statues and a chamber with 88 statues that represent the 88 temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage.



You gain access by entering the temple, depositing ¥100 and then plunging into the guts of the earth. Or the god. Whatever, it's pitch-black, and you have to feel your way around by keeping a hand on the walls.

It might surprise you that I was totally OK. I get claustrophobic in crowds, not in small spaces. There were a few other people – all of us semi-giggling, semi-stumbling and semi-cursing – but not enough to make me panic.

Nevertheless, I didn't exactly linger, and I was very happy to get excreted, as it were, into the icy wind that was blowing from the Tama River. (It was so strong that it made commuters stagger on the FT Station platform, which is almost above the river. I wanted to take a picture of the river, but dang, it was too cold.)

You're not supposed to take photos in the corridor, and the ill-mannered, law-breaking, dangerous criminal from the darkest continent obeyed that request. Other law-abiding Japanese citizens felt more adventurous. I found some photos on the internet, which I'll share here. You can also take a look at this.

Nope, not mine.

You can read another account of capering through the god's guts on Terra's blog. Since she's also a lawless furriner, she didn't take pictures inside the tunnel either.

Notes

List of sheep shrines/temples, given in Japanese because you'll find more Japanese than English information about them: 羊神社(愛知)、大国魂神社(東京)、玉川大師(東京)、法輪寺(京都)、 教楽院大日堂(宮城)、唐招提寺金堂(奈良)、高野山金剛峯寺(和歌山)、 全国の真言宗の寺院。


Statue of Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師)

Memorial to pets

Incense sticks. I was playing around with focus in this photo.

Oh, looky here, Fudō Myōō (不動明王), the wisdom king!

Ema with Kōbō-Daishi

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