Went running around Fukuoka Castle to check on the cherry blossoms—not yet—and noticed that parts of the castle have been given a fresh coat of paint recently. Seems the city is finally putting some money into park maintenance. The arched bridge just below this yagura (turret) is also being rebuilt as is the iris garden.
I don’t think the city would have bothered if inbound tourism hadn’t exploded as it has these past few years.
At the eastern entrance of Minami Kōen, a large, heavily forested park that is almost always deserted, you can find this small shrine dedicated to Konpira Gongen (金毘羅権現), god of merchant sailors. The shrine, which like the park is neglected by visitors, looks like something right out of a Miyazaki Hayao film.
Every day I hear Japanese complain, “Eigo-wa muzukashii.” (English is difficult.)
I suppose for non-native speakers of the language, English can be hard to master. This blessed tongue of mine is a hodgepodge of languages—Germanic, Romance and Celtic—making the spelling and grammar a confused mess that is cumbersome for learners and native speakers alike.
BUT! The Japanese language is so much more muzukashii. Our list of irregular verbs and odd spelling rules can NOT even begin to burden a student the way the Japanese writing system hinders foreigners.
Of the more than five thousand different languages out there in the world, the most difficult one to read is Japanese.
It’s not unusual to find a single sentence chockablock with Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, Rômaji, and even Arabic numerals. While hiragana, katana, and rômaji are straight-forward enough and can be memorized in less than a week, what really makes Japanese so hellish is the fact that unlike the pictograms in Chinese, known as hànzi (漢字) where most characters have one basic reading, almost all Japanese kanji have several possible, often unrelated readings.
Take the kanji for “I”. In Chinese it is pronounced wǒ. In Japanese, however, it can be pronounced a, aré, ga, wa, waré, and waro. The character for “food/eat” 食 is read shí in Chinese, but can be read uka, uke, ke, shi, jiki, shoku, ku, kui, su, ta, ha and so on, depending on context. And while the kanji for “go”, 行 can be read in a number of similar ways in Chinese—xíng, háng, hang, héng—in Japanese it can be read in all kinds of different ways: kô, gyô, okona, yu, yuki, yuku, i, an, and, who knows, possibly more.
Kids in Japan must master 1,006 of the 2,136 different characters, the so-called jôyô kanji, by the end of elementary school and the remainder in junior high school.
Now think about that.
It can take up to nine years of education for a Japanese child to become literate in his own language, far longer than it takes an American to learn how to read English. By comparison, hangul (한글) the Korean writing system can be mastered for the most part in a single day. If you’re determined enough, that is. I taught myself how to read (though not understand) hangul during a trip I took in the mid 90s. Riding on the high-speed train connecting Busan in the south of the country to Seoul in the north, I compared the Romanization of the station names and the Chinese characters with the hangul. By the time I reached Seoul a few hours later, I could read the Korean script. Piece of cake!
No other language offers as overwhelming a barrier to entry as Japanese does when it comes to its writing system. As a result, students of the language are often forced to focus on speaking alone. They cannot reinforce what they learn by, say, reading books or magazine and newspaper articles the way you can with other languages.
If they ever try to do so, however, as I did, they’ll find that written Japanese is a very different animal from the spoken language. Open up any book, even a collection of casual, humorous essays by Murakami Haruki for example, and you’ll bump up against “ーde-aru” (ーである). I hadn’t come across this copula until I started trying to read things other than textbooks and manga.
De-aru, which is just another way of say desu (ーです) but in a more formal and rigid way that is suitable for reports or making conclusions, is only the beginning. (You can learn more about de-aru here.) While I can generally catch almost everything that is being said to me or what is said on TV even when I’m not really paying attention, written Japanese takes concentrated effort to comprehend and sometimes up to three perusals to get a firm grasp on what the writer is trying to convey.
Even if you’re not interested in learning how to read Japanese, just trying to master the spoken language can provide you with years of headaches.
Thinking I could master the language in my first three months or so in Japan, I dove headfirst into my studies almost as soon as I arrived, taking sometimes two to three private lessons a week.
At the time, the selection of textbooks for learners of Japanese was extremely limited. While I had a good set of dictionaries called the Takahashi Romanized “Pocket” Dictionary—the only kind of pockets they would conceivably fit in were the pockets you might find on the baggy pants of a circus clown—the textbook I had to work with couldn’t have been more irrelevant.
Written for engineers from developing countries invited by the government to study and train in Japan, it contained such everyday vocabulary as “welding flux”, “hydraulic jack” and “water-pressure gauge”. The phrases taught in the textbook were equally helpful:
Rao-san-wa nani-o motteimasuka。
What is Rao-san holding?
Rao-san-wa supana-o motteimasu
Rao-san is holding a spanner.
In all of my twenty-plus years in Japan, I have never once used this phrase. I haven’t used a spanner or a wrench for that matter, either. Nor have I met anyone named Rao.
But, the biggest shortcoming of the textbook was its desire to have learners of Japanese speak the language politely.
And so, the less casual -masu (−ます) and -desu (—です) form of verbs triumphed. If you wanted to ask someone what he was doing, the textbook taught you to say:
(Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka?)
I practiced this phrase over and over: Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka? Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka? Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka? Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka? Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka?
Armed with this new phrase, I accosted a group of children in a playground and asked, “Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka?”
A few months later I was diligently studying Japanese in that most effective of classrooms—a girlfriend’s bed—when I learned that people didn’t really say Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka, especially to children much younger than themselves. No, they said, “Nani, shiteru no?” or something like that, instead.
After about a year of studying the language, I could manage. I certainly wasn’t what I would call fluent, but I was no longer threatened by starvation. When I moved to Fukuoka, however, I bumped up against a new and very unexpected wall: hôgen. The local patois, known as Hakata-ben, is one of the more well-known of Japan’s many bens, or dialects.
When the people of Fukuoka wanted to know what you were doing, they didn’t say anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka or even nani, shiteru no. They said, “Nan shiyô to?” (なんしようと) or “Nan shon?” (なんしょん).
Let me tell you, it took quite a few years to graduate from saying “Anata-wa, nani-o shiteimasuka?” to “Nan shiyô to?” And that, of course, was only the beginning. It took me nearly a decade to figure out what 〜んめえ (~nmê) and ばってん (batten) meant.
Hakata-ben: Ame-nara, ikanmê to omôtoruccha batten, kon yôsu nara, furanmê ya.
Standard: Ame nara, ikumai to omotteru-no daga, kono yôsu dato, ame wa furanai darô.
English: I was thinking of not going if it rained, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain (after all).
My Japanese grandmother would say something like, “Anta, ikanmê” (you aren’t going, are you) to which I’d grunt, “Un” (that’s right), when in fact I had every intention of going. The poor woman and I had conversations like that all the time. When I finally figured that one out it was as if the scales had fallen from my eyes. Day-to-day life here has contained fewer misunderstandings ever since. ばってん (batten), by the way, means “but”.
My experience with Hakata-ben has spawned a masochistic interest in Japanese dialects in general and I have been maintaining a blog on the topic for the past few years. Have a look-see!
Anyways, the long and short of it is that while English is no cakewalk, it’s still much easier to learn than many other languages, such as Japanese. So, the next time you hear your students grumbling about how difficult English is, just tell them, “Oh, shuddup.” Or better yet, tell them “Shekarashika!”
 常用漢字, jôyô kanji, are the Chinese characters designated by the Ministry of Education for use in everyday life.
 A copula is a word used to link a subject and predicate, as in “John is a teacher”, where “John” is the subject, “a teacher” (actually a predicative nominal), the predicate and “is”, the copula. (Don’t worry, I had know idea what a copula was either until I started studying Japanese.)
 Unless it’s a period piece and the actors are using Edo Period Japanese.
 I use the word “perusal” to imply thoroughness and care in reading. So many Americans today mistakenly assume the word means “to skim”. It does not, it does not, it does not. So, for the love of God, stop it! Same goes for the word “nonplussed”. If you’re not a hundred percent certain of the meaning—and even if you are (over confidence is America’s Achilles heel)—don’t use it. Chances are you’re probably mistaken.
 I eagerly await his arrival, though. For when I find him, I will surely ask, “ラオさん、何を持っていますか？”
 I have intentionally translated this in the manner that Japanese speak—namely “I was thinking about not doing” rather than the more natural “I wasn’t thinking about doing”—to make the original sentences easier to understand.
 Incidentally, while in Tôkyô I chatted up a girl from Gifu who told me that they also used the same ~nmê verb ending. Her friend from Hokkaidô had never heard it before.
It's February again which makes me wonder if there are any songs dedicated to the coldest month of the year. I can't think of any off the top of my head.
This time last year an honest to god blizzard hit Fukuoka which was a lot of fun. I cancelled my class at the uni and took my sons out to Dazaifu which tends to get two to four times as much snow as we do in the city. Keep it in mind, the next time the area is hit with a snow storm.
Anyways, February, like the other months is known by a number of names in Japanese. Nigatsu (二月, "Second Month") is the most common. Kisaragi, also pronounced Jōgetsu (如月, ") is the old name for the month according to the lunar calendar, or inreki (陰暦, literally "cloudy/shadow + calendar"). The second month was also called 如月 in China, but apparently there is no connection to the kisaragi of Japan.
There are some theories for the origin of the name. One is that in the old lunar calendar, kisaragiwas still cold--hey, it's still cold today--and people were encouraged to wear extra layers during the month. Kisaragi can also be written 衣更着, which means to put on (着) even more (更に) clothing (衣).
Another theory is that plants and trees (草木, kusagi) put forth new buds (芽が張り出す, mi-o haridasu) during the month, so the month may have been known as kusakihariduki, which when abreviated became kisaragi.
Reigetsu (麗月, "beautiful month") is another name for the second month because everything sparkles beautifully.
Umemizuki (梅見月, "plum blossom viewing month")
Hatsuhanatsuki (初花月, "first flower month")
Yukigeduki (雪消月, "snow disappears month")
Tangetsu (短月, "short month") due to the number of days in the month
One of the nice things about living in Japan is that there is always some festival or holiday to look forward to. Unlike America where once the holiday season ends with New Year's or, ho-hum, the feast of the Epiphany on January sixth, there is a long lull in festive events, in Japan something fun is always just around the corner. Once Christmas has passed, the trees come down and up go the kadomatsu and other New Year's decorations. After the five or six-day drinking, eating, and TV-viewing binge known as O-Shôgatsu, or the Japanese New Year, comes Tôka Ebisu, a festival honoring Ebisu, the patron deity of businesses and fisheries. At around the same time, the Coming-of-Age Day celebration celebrating the entry into adulthood of the nation's twenty-year olds, is held. There is the bean-throwing exorcism known as Setsu-bun in early February, as well as a number of local festivals held in shrines and temples in the meantime.
On Sunday, I went to Fukuoka's main Ebisu shrine which is located just outside of Higashi Park. While I sometimes miss the New Year's celebrations do to travel, I always manage to get back in time to attend the Tôka Ebisu festival.
Like most other festivals held throughout the year in Japan, you'll find the usual demisé food stalls selling o-konomiyaki (below), jumbo yakitori, and so on. What makes Tôka Ebisu different, however, is the number of stalls selling good luck items featuring the seven lucky gods (Shichi Fukujin) of which Ebisu is one, talismansand other trinkets to ward off bad luck, and so on.
The festival also attracts a much different class of people. Whereas you can see many young men and women at the harvest festival Hôjoya (also known as Hôjoe), the people attending Tôka Ebisu tend to be older and "tarnished", making it an interesting place to people watch. I never fail to find the middled aged mamas of "snacks", rough-looking men who look as if Ebisu hasn't been very generous to them, and others desperate for an auspicious start to the new business year.
This year, there seemed to be far more people at the festival than usual. Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was that after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami everyone is hoping for a bit of luck.
If you look closely at the apex of the crowd in the picture above you can see an upside down red fish, a sea bream. This is a symbol of Ebisu who is often depicted carrying one. In Japanese the sea bream is called tai which rhymes with medetai, meaning “happy”, “auspicious”, or “successful”. Real sea bream are often displayed at a celebratory gatherings, such as New Years, the end of sumô tournaments, engagement ceremonies, and so on.
Just beyond the red sea bream is a procession of the Hakata Geiki, a troupe of geisha working in Fukuoka City. I’ll write about them in a later post in the coming months. Incidentally, the photo on the cover of my second novel, A Woman’s Nails, was taken at this event several years ago.
The geisha making their way to the shrine. This procession is held every year at the height of the Tôka Ebisu festival and worth seeing. This year we just happened to be there when it was taking place.
Another feature of Tôka Ebisu is the drawing that is held at the shrine. On either side of the shinden there are booths selling tickets.
The first time I attended the festival was over ten years ago and didn’t know what to expect. So, when I pulled out one of the lots from a hexegonal box and the Shintô priest shouted, “Ôatari!” (Jackpot!), my mind filled with delicious possibilities: a new car? A trip to Hawaii? Cash? I had never ever won so much as a cakewalk or bingo game before. Needless to say, I was quite excited.
As another priest pounded out several beats on a drum and shouted “Ôatari,” the first priest pulled out a huge red fan from a pile of trinkets and talismans behind him and passed it to me. The fan had 商売繁盛 (shôbai hanjô, “prosperity in business”) written on it in large white characters. Prosperous was the last thing I felt.
That didn’t stop me, however, from going back year after year and trying my luck. In the past, the tickets were only ¥1,500. Today, they go for ¥2,000 each—so much for the deflationary pressure we are told has been pushing prices lower and lower—and where I once bought two or three of the tickets, I now only buy one.
Over the years I have “won” two of those large red shôbai hanjô fans, a massive wooden paddle as big as a cricket bat that has 一斗二升五合 written on it, a plate featuring Ebisu-sama, a wooden piggy bank, a calendar, and a small Ebisu doll.
A dutiful follower of this cult of Ebisu, I went on the tenth of January last year. The weather was awful—freezing cold and rainy—and I had been forced to wait under a canopy that leaked like a sieve for a good hour and a half until my wife and son showed up.
When they finally did, I was in a foul mood. My pant legs and shoes soaking wet, the cold was beginning to seep into my bones.
“Let’s just get the damn thing and head on home, okay?” I grumbled to my wife. “It’s freezing!”
We hurried into the shrine, which thanks to the lousy weather was not as crowded as it usually can be during the festival. There was only a handful of people in line for the drawing.
Well, no sooner had we handed over our ¥2000 at the reception desk than the man at the counter said, “Congratulations, you’re our twenty-five-thousandth visitor.” Or something like that. He had us fill out a form and then asked us to follow him to the place where the lots were drawn. After handing the form to the priest with the box containing the lots, I was told to pull one of the sticks out. It didn’t matter which. I did so and gave it to the priest who stood up and, turning on a microphone, said he had a big announcement to make.
“We have a major prize for our twenty-five-thousandth visitor today!” Another priest started banging away at a drum. The other priests in the shinden stopped what they were doing, stood up, and started clapping in unison. After a number of Banzais, the priest handed over a massive and cumbersome bamboo rake to me. It was adorned with ceramic depictions of the gods Ebisu and Daikoku, a red sea bream, a bale of rice, and other auspicious items.
Let me tell you, I couldn’t have been more thrilled had I won a trip to Hawaii.
I don’t know if it is thanks to Ebisu-sama, my son whose arrival in my life signaled the beginning of things finally going my way, or plain dumb luck, but last year ended up being the very best year ever in so many ways.
When you’ve already won the jackpot, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to continue dropping quarters into the slot machine, and yet that is essentially what we did by returning to the Ebisu festival this year and trying our hand at the drawing again.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” my wife said.
“I know, I know,” I replied. “But still, it would be nice to get one of those boats with the seven lucky gods in it. I’ve always wanted one for the collection.”
Sure enough, Ebisu wasn’t as generous to us this year: we got a simple little wooden abacus. I suppose the message the gods are trying to tell us is that we should be more careful about how we spend money. Duly noted, Ebisu-sama!
 Ask your Japanese friends to try reading 一斗二升五合and most of them will be stumped. It is a riddle of sorts employing 斗, 升, 合 all of which are traditional Japanese measures of volume.
一斗 (itto, about 18 liters) is equal to ten 升 (shô, about 1.8 liters). 一斗, then, can be said to equal 五升の倍 (go shô no bai), which means “five shô doubled”. 五升の倍 (go shô no bai) is synonymous with 御商売 (go shôbai) which means “one’s business or trade”. Got that?
二升 (nishô). 升 can also be read masu. 二升 here is read “masu masu” which sounds like 益々 (masu masu), meaning “more and more”, “steadily”, and so on.
五合 (go gô, 5 x 0.18 liters, or 0.9 liters) is one half of a shô or 半升 (hanjô) which sounds the same as 繁盛 (hanjô, prosperity). So, putting it all together 一斗二升五合 can be read “Go-shôbai masu masu hanjô!” (御商売益々繁盛), meaning something to the effect that your business or trade will enjoy increasing prosperity.
If you live in only one region of Japan for an extended time as I have, it’s easy to make the mistake of assuming that what is true in the town you reside in is also true throughout the rest of the country.
I first recognized this many, many years ago when I kept getting tripped up by the local dialect, known as Hakata-ben (博多弁). I’ve written about this elsewhere, but what I’m getting at here here is not my failure to understand what someone is saying because he is speaking the local dialect, but rather people not understand what I am saying because I have unwittingly used the dialect thinking that what I was speaking standard Japanese.
Take the Japanese word koi (濃い), which can mean deep, heavy, dark or thick—such as in koi aka (濃い赤), “deep red”; koi sūpu (濃いスープ) “thick soup”; ~ wa ajitsuke ga koi (〜は味付けが濃い) “. . . is strongly seasoned”; or even chi-wa mizu-yorimo koi (血は水よりも濃い) “Blood is thicker than water.” For the first ten years of my life here in Fukuoka, I thought koi was pronounced koyui. (Try looking it up in a Japanese-English dictionary.) If you go to Tõkyõ and ask a bartender to make you a stiff drink, saying “make it koyui”, he’ll probably give you a funny look.
Traditional foods, too, can vary from region to region in Japan, so much so that a simple dish like o-zōni—a soup eaten during New Year’s—can contain radically different ingredients and yet still be called o-zōni.
Customs, as I have mentioned before, also differ from prefecture to prefecture. The Bon Festival of the Dead, for example, can, depending on the region, be held as early as July 15th (in Shizuoka, for example) or in other parts on August 15th. Some regions, such as Okinawa, observe what is known as Kyū Bon (旧盆) which falls on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. In 2019, Kyū Bon and “regular Bon” will take place at the same time, namely from the 13th to the 15th of August. Living all this time in Kyūshū, I used to assume that all Japanese celebrated the Bon in the middle of August and would pester everyone with the question: “Why isn’t this a national holiday like New Year’s?”
Now only a few years ago, it finally dawned on me that something I had taken for two decades to be a widely-observed custom was actually a very local one: sansha mairi (三社参り).
In Japan, many people (and I would venture most) visit a Shintō shrine during the first few days of the new year, a custom known as hatsumōdé (初詣), to pray or make wishes. At the shrines, they buy good luck charms called o-mamori (お守り), drink a special kind of saké, and buy written oracles known as o-mikuji (おみくじ). It’s primarily in Fukuoka, though, that people visit (o-mairi, お参り) three shrines (三社) rather than one.
Live and learn.
One of my favorite places in Hakata is Shōfuku-ji, Japan’s oldest Zen Buddhism temple. Every autumn I try to make it over there to take photos of the maple leaves. Today, though, I was surprised to discover that the temple has been over run with very people-friendly cats. (They understand Hakata-ben, too.)
Every few days we get an email from the local elementary school reporting a "fushin-na jinbutsu" (不審な人物, suspicious person).
My first thought when reading these mails is usually "Geez, I hope someone isn't reporting me." Because of my running routine--I run like a burglar through about four different school districts dressed in BRIGHT pylon orange almost every morning--and the fact that I am a "guyjin", I stand out. There are often reports of my being seen running here or there.
The second thought is often "Geez, these perverts have not improved upon their game one iota in the four decades since I was a kid.”
Just the other day, a "young man" walked up to an elementary school girl and said, "Your father's been in an accident. Come with me and I'll take you to the hospital."
Oldest trick in the Perv Book!
The girl had the good sense to ask the man what her father's name was. When he couldn't answer, she ran away.
Today, a boy was approached by someone who promised to give him "something nice" if he came with him.
Second oldest trick!
Fortunately, this young boy also had the good sense to high-tail it.
It may still be hotter than Hades outside, but you won't see many bikinis at the sea in Japan anymore this summer. From the Bon Festival of the Dead (Aug.15) on, people tend to keep to the sand, huddled under parasols and tents if they go to the beach at all. By September the beach is virtually deserted. One can't help but feel lonely at this time of year.
We’ve been back about a week now so I thought it would be interesting to jot down some impressions about “home”.
The first one is the idea of home. When people here ask me where I’m from, I’m often at a loss to say where. The last place I lived before coming to J-land was Portland. Having been transplanted there—kicking and screaming at the age of ten and forever pining for the sun, palm trees and beach—Portland never quite felt like home. At a party two weeks ago, a cousin told me firmly that I was raised in California. I guess I was. But where? I went to kindergarten and the first years of elementary school in Orange County, but summers were spent in sleepy Wrightwood in the “Samberdino” Mountains, weekends in Palm Springs. Later, I would go to uni in “Sandy Eggo”. After half my life—more!—spent in Japan, this country has become home and stepping off the plane I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief.
In Japan, things are predictable, safe. And quiet. That was the first thing I noticed. It was also the first thing I noticed when when we left Japan at the departure gate in Haneda. The foreign ground staff yelled at the passengers. The kid gloves were torn off and thrown to the floor almost as if they were taunting the travelers. “Get in line! Passports! Boarding cards out!!! Group C get your asses in gear!”
We were late for our connecting flight to Fukuoka, so the JAL staff ran with us to the monorail with comp tickets and got us to the domestic departure counter fifteen minutes before our flight was to leave. Had we been stateside, our seats would have been given to someone else, our bags would have been sent to Timbuktu.
On the flight from Haneda to FUK, my son vomited in the aisle. When I noticed what had happened and went to the restroom to help, I found one of the veteran stewardesses was with my boy, cleaning him off. I doubt that would have happened on the flight to LAX.
Food. On our way home from the airport, we dropped in at a yakitori-ya, EVERYTHING was fantastic. I mentioned this before, but my socks were blown off. They may still be there at that yakitori-ya. And it only cost fifty bucks for five people. EVERYTHING I have eaten since I’ve been back has been phenomenal. The yakitori, yes, but also the keema curry, the Thai gapao rice at Gamrandi, the spicy curry at Tiki, the Sri Lankan curry at Tuna Paha, the tacos at El Borracho, even the rice balls from our neighborhood connivence store . . .
Service. I had some lenses put in the hipster frames I bought in Portland and the staff who checked my eyesight and filled my prescription were so damn professional. The same was true at the Softbank shop when I returned an old iPhone. No attitude, just stellar performances by shop clerks who think nothing of going above and beyond.
Cleanliness. I was constantly admonishing my sons to get off the floor, to not touch this or that, to stop putting their hands in their mouths after having touched something. I was quickly becoming a germaphobe. Back in Japan, though I stopped caring. Public restrooms here are cleaned several times a day. I think Disneyland tried to do a good job of cleaning up the restrooms, but they were no match for the ones here. One of my students from NYC said she didn’t mind putting her “whole butt on the toilet seat”. That cracked me up. (No buns intended.)
The girls. Slim, fashionable, pretty. I could go on and on. The skinny buck toothed girl at the reception desk at the public pool this morning was adorable. (The women in California, to be fair, were rather attractive.)
Public restrooms are not only very clean, but just about EVERYwhere.
As for the negatives, I found all my allergies returning when I was back in Fukuoka. My nose ran. Eczema behind the ears. Intense back pain. The vacation was OVER. I had to go back to work and think about money again.
I don’t care for the stupid swim cap rule at pools here. Even men bald as eggs must wear swim caps because rules are rules. And the pools have too much damn chlorine in them. They are nice and warm, though.
One reason it’s so quiet here is that people don’t talk to strangers much. They tend to keep to themselves. My Tokyo friends tell me this is a Fukuoka thing. I think so, too. Edo-ko are much friendlier than Kyushu-ites. That said, even people in Tokyo refrain from telling strangers on the bus their life stories.
Buildings here tend to be shabby and cheap-looking. Little is built to last anymore which is a shame. The Japanese used to have pretty good sense when they built in the past. Now function trumps everything.
Although we spent a lot (most?) of our time outdoors in the States, I never got sunburnt. A few hours at the beach here and I was red as a lobster. Beach sand here is drier and hotter than in California. You cannot walk on it in bare feet here, but Venice Beach was no problem at all.
Speaking of Venice Beach, there were trash cans every fifty yards or so. I wish Japan would bring back the trash can. So annoying having to carry a wad of garbage for miles and miles in search of some place to dump it. Perhaps Japan and America could do humanitarian airdrops. Japan could heli in high-tech washlets and America can deliver low-tech garbage cans.
I forgot to mention the fucking humidity. It’s been killing me. Let me tell ya, it was nice to have been spared it for four weeks. In the States, I didn’t sweat; didn’t stink. Here, I have to take a shower two or three times a day.
We are seriously considering going back next summer for another long stay, but there are things we need to bring with us if we do. Knives that cut or perhaps a stone to sharpen knives. Kitchen scissors. Saran Wrap, chopsticks and saibashi. Aji-tsuki shio kosho, chōmiryō, Japanese rice.
We went from barreling down 18-lane freeways in Southern California at 120 kph to this.
“‘Scuse me. Pardon me. Would you mind moving over a bit? And could you retract your side mirror? Thanks. I appreciate it.”
Years ago I moved from Arato (near Ōhori Park) to Daimyō. On one of my last nights in the neighborhood, I popped into my favorite koryōri-ya and told the master that it was with great regret that I had to say good-bye to them. "You see, I'm . . . moving away."
"Oh? Where to?" asked his wife.
"Oh? Daimyō where?"
"Where in exactly?"
As luck would have it, I was going to be living in the very same building as the couple. So, we didn't have to say goodbye after all.
Fast forward ten plus years and my wife is at the neighborhood bakery where Mrs. I tells her that today will be their last day of business. They're going to close down the bakery and demolish the building. What they do next is up in the air. They may build an apartment building, but at the moment nothing is decided, nothing except that they will be moving.
My wife who has been going to the bakery as often as three times or four times a week and chatting with the woman was sad to hear that they would be moving away.
"Don't worry," the baker's wife replied. "We're moving into your building. We'll be right upstairs from you."
Fukuoka, despite its size, is a very small town.