Monthly Archives: August 2006

Thunderstorm

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     We had a thunderstorm in the evening last Tuesday. Actually I didn’t want to go out because it started thundering when I left home. But as the grocery store near my apartment was supposed to close next day because of inventory, I needed buy some food for two days. And I thought that I might get something good at a bargain price. That’s why I went to the grocery store, hearing distant thunder.

     It started raining with big drops when I was about to leave the store after shopping. I had an umbrella with me at that time, but it was small and folding. I thought that I would be drenched with rain when I saw the sky. So I decided to wait for improving at a coffee shop in the grocery store.

     When I entered the coffee shop, there was no customer except me. I sat down near the window and ordered a cup of coffee. While seeing outside there, it started raining harder and harder. And it started thundering bigger and bigger. There were many flashes of lightning outside. When it thundered, the window and my cup on the table shuddered.

    “Oh, no! I cannot go home!”

     But I was excited. To tell the truth, I like thunderstorms. One of my desires is to shampoo my head in the thunderstorm!

     There was a vivid flash outside at that moment.

     Blackout!

     I grasped my cell phone and started the camera. The outside looked like a ghost town. Hmmm…it was the third time to have experiences of the power stoppage for 10days…Thunderclouds follow me?

My second course finished.

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 On August 25, my second summer intensive course finished. I had a really good time in the class. It was good to decide on taking it again. I mean I took the class last spring, too. My teacher gave me much information and knowledge about Japanese culture and an opportunity to think about it, especially about O-bon this time.

     Although I had been impressed by his deep and wide knowledge and arrangements for the class last spring, I was impressed by them this summer again. The handouts with various fonts and insetted nice illustrations stimulated and motivated students, I think.

     I had never thought that it is similar between Setsubun, a Japanese cultural event and Halloween until I took the class. I had never thought why people throw soy beans at “oni” demons on Setsubun. My teacher’s idea is that bean is symbol of life, you know, seed is a capsule of life. Setsubun is an event for welcoming spring. It means an invocation to fertilization. Ancient people might start throwing beans, capsules of life, with hope for it. It’s similar to rice-shower in western style wedding ceremonies. You know, rice is capsules of life, too.

     Anyway, I enjoyed myself in the classroom. I made many friends there. I had some chances to have lunch together with them during the course. Because I am on a low-carbohydrate diet now, I am avoiding having carbohydrates. But I enjoyed each meal with a glass of beer every lunch time! My friends and I had a really nice conversation over lunch every time. I know I am talkative, but so were they!

Pachinko

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In the English course, we kept thinking about our own culture and practicing explaining many Japanese cultural things.

     On the final day, I had an opportunity to talk about Pachinko with one of my classmates, who is working at a Pachinko parlor as an accountant. Before writing about her story, I will write about Pachinko down here.

     Pachinko is a game which is a mixture between slot machine and pinball. There are many places where you can play Pachinko here in Nagoya. In fact, Pachinko was born in Nagoya! The places are usually called Pachinko parlors. Probably you think it is noisy even outside when you pass by near one of them because there are a lot of Pachinko machines in it.

     Players just control the speed of small steel balls of the Pachinko machine. Most of the balls are just fall down and disappear. But if you are lucky, some balls get into special halls of the machine, you can get many balls. You can exchange them into a variety of goods. And then you can exchange the goods for cash outside. You know, here in Japan, gambling is prohibited. So for the bypass of the law, each Pachinko parlor has a small hut with a small window outside, and you can get money there. It means that you sell the goods to the hut. Hmmm, who thought of the idea first?

     As I wrote above, one of my classmates works at a Pachinko parlor. When we talked about Pachinko, she said to me, “I hate Pachinko!” I am not interested in Pachinko at all, but I won’t use the word “hate” for Pachinko. So I asked her how come she didn’t like Pachinko so much.

     According to her, about 20 millions change hands at the parlor every day. The large sum of money sickens her. She seems to think those money is not good money. She hates the company executive, too. She seems to think he is a money-grubber. She says, “I don’t like money.” Hmmm…I like money, though…

Haiku

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Do you know Haiku? Haiku is a Japanese poetic form with 3 lines and 17 syllables (5-7-5 syllables) and has to contain a season word, called kigo.

       On the fourth day of the course, we tried to make one in the class. You know, for most Japanese people, it is difficult to count syllables in English words. Besides, I have not made one even in Japanese for a long time. Most Japanese people have tried to make some in their school days.

Because a season word is necessary in a Haiku poem, for me it is not so easy to make one. But our teacher told us that we didn’t need to use any season words. So I made two Haiku. Oh, no! They are not Haiku at all! They have no season words. They are Haiku style poems. But anyway, I’ll show them to you

Eleven thirty,
Oh! I am getting hungry,
Let’s have lunch somewhere!

 At a coffee shop,
Wait for you over coffee,
Raining hard outside.

 Oh, no! Are they poems? If they are poems, they are terrible…

Kendo

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     On the third of the course, we practiced explaining the items of Japanese arts, which are divided into three: fine arts, crafts, and skills. And those three can be divided into more, for example there are martial arts and performing arts in the skills.

     The task in the class was that each student explained an item which they had done or were interested in. I chose Kendo, which is one of Japanese martial arts, for that because I did Kendo when I was a junior high school student.

     Kendo is one of Japanese martial arts and known as Japanese fencing. Kendo is practiced using swords called shinai in Japanese, which are made of split bamboo, and protective armor called bogu in Japanese. The word “shinai” came from a Japanese word “shina-u.” “Shina-u” means bend in English. As the sword made of spilt bamboo can bend, it can disperse power, so it can prevent injury while doing Kendo.

     In Kendo, two players fight with shinai and bogu, but what I was interested in this time was sonkyo. Sonkyo is the way of sitting styles and expresses courtesy. Players have to perform sonkyo before combat. Sonkyo is originally done at Shinto rite for showing courtesy. That’s why, you can Sumo wrestlers perform sonkyo before fighting because Sumo used to one of Shinto rites. Kendo doesn’t have anything with Shinto, but sonkyo is done as manners which can show courtesy to competitor.

     There are 8 specified target areas for getting points in a competition. The targets are top of the head (men), upper left and right side of the head (yoko-men), the left and right wrists (kote), the left and right torsos (do), and the throat(tsuki). But tsuki is prohibited among children because thrusting the throat is dangerous.

    This time I recalled about my childhood, and I started wanting to try Kendo again.

What’s O-bon?

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     On the second day of the course, I talked about O-bon with other students in the class. Before the day, our teacher gave us a sheet of paper for preparing for explaining about O-bon in English as homework. I put my ideas and the information I searched on the Internet about O-bon on record here.

  1.  What is the purpose of O-bon?    
    It is to honor and console the departed spirits of ancestors originally, but recently it’s more like family reunion.
  2.  What do the Kanji Characters for O-bon mean? How does it relate to the holiday?
    The Kanji Characters for O-bon are “
    ”(o) and “”(bon). “” is put before other words and it expresses politeness. And “” usually means a round tray. O-bon doesn’t mean such a round tray, but it is derived from a Sanskrit’s word “Ullambana”, which means hanging upside down in hell and suffering. So I think the Kanji Characters themselves don’t relate to the holiday directly.
  3.  What do people do during O-bon?
    Some people visit their family graves. Some have special O-bon rituals at home, for example, light paper lanterns or small piles of twigs to welcome the departed spirits of their ancestors, decorate many things in the family alter, make special dolls with vegetables (*a horse by a cucumber and a cow by a eggplant). Some reunite their family member and friends in their hometowns and have feast with them. And some goes abroad.
  4.  What do spirits do on O-bon?
    They come back to their family or descendants’ house, being led by small fire or paper lanterns’ lights in the evening of the 13th of August by riding horses made by cucumbers. They spend two nights there (Probably they are consoled by the feast which is held by their family, and by chanting sutras.), and go back to their world by riding cows made by eggplants. The reason why they come by cucumber horses and go back by eggplant cows is that people think their ancestors want to come back home quickly and don’t want to go back so quickly. You know, horses can run even faster than cows. In general, cows seldom run. That’s interesting.
  5. What’s the relationship of the Bon-Odori with Obon?
    Bon-Odori is held as a reminder of ancestors. The origin is an episode in India that a man started dancing unintentionally with joy because departed his mother was rescued from her suffering in the hell by embracing Buddhism. I think that ancient people started Bon-Odori to express their gratefulness for their ancestors.
  6. Why do people dance and wear yukatas at a Bon-Odori?
    Nowadays it’s faded to welcome and console departed ancestors’ spirits, and people just dance for their joy. Yukata used to be to the most casual clothing originally. But now it’s usually rare to wear ones through a year. So people tend to wear Japanese traditional occasions like a Bon-Odori to feel Japanese spirits.
  7. Are there any special foods or drinks people consume during this holiday & festival?
    I don’t know the answer to the question. Some says nothing special. Some says that people eat tofu during O-bon. I don’t have a clue.
  8. Why do you think it’s important to celebrate this holiday & festival?
    Usually Japanese people are too busy to think about their family and even themselves. O-bon holidays give nice opportunities to let people think such things. People can relax and reunite family members and friends. And they may be able to promote a friendship of neighbors through the festival.
  9. In Western culture, what holiday is the closest to O-bon & Bon-Odori?
    Theses three days are similar to O-bon. All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31st, All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on November 2nd.

Explaining Japanese Culture

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     My second summer intensive course at the university has started since Monday. The class is for practicing to express Japanese culture in English for foreigners. Our teacher is a cute(!)  American.

     Actually I have taken his class in the spring. I take his class again because the spring course was really nice and interesting. I think 14 people are enrolled in my class, though, only from 9 to 11 students showed up each day so far because someone was absent.

     According to the application for the class, its suggestion is around 400 scores of TOEIC test, but all of students have higher scores or skills, I think. I am stimulated by their motivations and energy and the information that our teacher gives us. I am now enjoying myself in the classroom.

     On the first day, for introducing ourselves we ask each other about personal questions about Japanese culture. For example, we asked each other, “What is your opinion about Pachinko?”, “What are your thoughts about Sumo Wrestling?” and so on.

     All of students in my class are women and talkative. They are nice and kind. I have made many new friends again! How lucky I am! After class we have lunch together, so we must make restaurants’ staffs annoyed because of noisiness! Anyway, I have had wonderful times in and out of the classroom.