Monday, January 30, 2012

Maybe Not Such a Good Idea

Fugu season is coming around again. We'll have to try this place next — my namesake — Edoko.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Difficulty of Photographing Birds

In yesterday's post I talked about going out on a wild kingfisher chase. This morning I woke up determined to catch my prey, making my way back to the same canal where I had seen the little guy the day before.

A glorious, slightly overcast day, I'm bumping fuzzily along the dirt path on two wheels.
I reach the canal and in its murky waters I see fish.
Big fish. Bigger fish than I think a kingfisher could fish.

I don't see him yet, but there's evidence of him all around. On the rocks and poles.
I can imagine him perched there, surveying the waters. I sit down and wait.

Soon, a flash of blue catches me eye, speeding past, almost scraping the wall. I pull out my camera and start snapping. The only problem is that he won't let me get too close. As soon as I'm within twenty feet, even across the canal, he darts off. Well, not the only problem. I'm finding it's damn difficult to hold the camera completely steady to get off a good shot.

For that I'm gonna need a tripod.

Here's what I was hoping to snap.

Here's what I got.
Cute, but blurry, and not very crisp. I'll need to go back. I think there's a tripod in here somewhere.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

To the Kingfisher

Recently a friend of mine from Montana started a blog. One of her first posts was about running and how it was one of the constants in her life. After reading her post I got to feeling guilty for not having run myself in over a week. Admittedly it's been cold with the occasional snow flurry or light rain, and I've been busy — but those are just excuses. When you're in a groove and running every day there are no excuses. You just go.

So today I got my running gear on and headed across the neighbor's field to the bike trail which conveniently cuts through our neighborhood. I followed that for a ways as it sliced through small fields lined with winter vegetables, then on past the graveyard which runs hard against the hills.

At the first chance, I turned off onto a side street which winds though a residential area tucked into a tiny valley with a nursing home at its far end. After the home, a small road veers upward into Taki-no-miya park, running past a dam much too large for the trickle of water behind it, before turning into a dirt trail.

Now I'm feeling comfortable. The trail ascends, humping over a second, smaller dam, then throwing me into the forest where the trail does a little dog leg then heads straight upward for almost exactly the length of Candela! My legs are burning as I reach the ridgeline, but now the trail plunges back downward, zig-zagging first through cedar, then an assortment of bushes and suzuki grass.

The trail does its best to lose me, but I stick with it, dodging branches at eye level and roots and rocks at my feet. Deeper into the forest last year's brown leaves litter the ground. I plunge downward, following the trail to its terminus as it throws me out onto the wider, main trail which runs through the park.

I keep ascending. Off to my left, the higher mountains across the valley are partially obscured by clouds. Below me lies the perfectly manicured though winter-brown country club. The trail bottlenecks and off to my right I can see the Setouchi Sea, an island or two floating on the horizon.

Soon I come to a little gate which I carefully close behind me, putting me onto the country club road. I run past the club, then the groundskeeper's sheds, before the road ascends once again, winding up into the clouds. Mercifully it tops out and I know that the rest of the run will be all downhill or flat. I ease into the run, and work my way downward, out the country club onto a back road which follows a stream down the hillside.

At the bottom of the hill I turn and follow its contour though fallow fields along canals. I've just rounded one of the turnings when I see it in all of its iridescence — a kingfisher, swooping down from the edge of the canal over the water then back up to perch on the canal edge, stopping briefly again on the cement to eye me, then flying off into the bamboo thickets.

It's the second time I've seen the little guy in exactly the same place, so after I get home and eat lunch I decide to go back out to see if I can photograph him. I get on my bike and head back on the bicycle trail in the opposite direction from which I had left earlier. I pass the lake, and the takoyaki stand and the batting cages, then follow the river along the base of the hill past more grave markers.

I don't feel like humping my bicycle across the river, so I leave it at the edge and jump across on the stepping stones. I retrace my earlier run along the field edge hard against the canal. Presently I come to the kingfisher's domain, but he's either not about now or in hiding. A few other nondescript birds peer out of the bamboo thickets, or rustle in the grasses down below, but not my guy. In the canal only clouds.
All right. But what about that shrine on the hillside. You've never been up there. And you haven't really climbed all that much today.
I dig the stonework. Obviously the people here care about their little shrine. I tromp up to the torii (you see the white stone entranceway at the top of the stairs?)

So now I'm ready for life to start talking to me. At the base of the torii is a sign warning the visitor not to touch it owing to its general crankiness. I'm immediately struck by the fact (I don't think I ever noticed it before) that the the kanji for torii (鳥居) literally means "bird resides".

A nice little irony. I may not have found my kingfisher today, but I can always return.

So I move round back to admire the view.
And make a little offering.
To the kingfisher.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Oldest Knife Maker in Kyōto

Buji (無事) I think, the hanging scroll reads — safety; peace; or quietness.

We stumbled upon this shop in our search for yuzu miso, but didn't, unfortunately, have enough time to go inside.

The oldest knife maker in Kyōto, Shigeharu (重春) was founded in the Kamakura period sometime between 1190 and 1329.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Water

It's true most of us take water for granted — at least here in Japan or in the United States. It's always available; it's relatively cheap; and it's clean.

It's so clean around here, in fact, that the neighboring town, Saijyo, has water fountains flowing with spring water at the train station. The Asahi Beer Factory is also located in that town and both Niihama and Saijyo are regularly rated as having the purest water in Japan.

So when you wake up in the morning to nothing but air coming out of your tap, you start thinking about how lucky you are — lucky to have a little canal running right in front of your house that blue herons and turtles can be spotted in most days.
So you know you won't have trudge miles to find water if it ever came to that. You can just pop outside, dip a bucket in the canal, and go about your business.

But when the water stopped, I decided to call the water company first. They politely told me that there was road construction happening in the neighborhood (yep, I could hear that going on) and it would be a few hours until the water resumed flowing through my pipes.

All right. I could live with that. About an hour later, after trying the local sentō (public bath) — too early yet, closed — and getting a couple of liters of water from the local supermarket to boil for tea, there came a knock on my door.

A man from the road crew was offering to bring me over a few gallons of water to compensate for the inconvenience (and to use to flush my toilet.) I gladly accepted, and a few minutes later he came back with a large container full of water.

Now that's service. I couldn't quite imagine it happening that way back in the states.

And, just after lunch, as promised, the water came back on.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Milk Box as Mailbox

A lot of people here get their milk delivered to their doorstep — or used to anyway. You can still see the boxes — some wooden, some plastic — hanging here and there around town.

The box on the left with the yellow characters just visible around the symbol of the star — 雪牛乳 or Snow Brand Milk — has been smartly co-opted to serve as a mailbox. The owner has written ゆうびんうけ (mailbox) in black marker across the front in hiragana — perhaps to do it in Kanji was too much of a bother (郵便受け). 

On the right is a nice example of an old wooden box (sorry it's a little out of focus) for Meiji Milk. Notice the telephone number on the side of the box in Kanji which helps give away its age.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More Folly, Less Idiocy

I had the good fortune to travel to Kyōto this past week where I made a pilgrimage to an out-of-the-way bookstore called Keibunsha in a district called Ichijoji on the Eizan line.

It's a used bookstore, mostly, heavy on art, but it doesn't feel or smell so much like one. I'm guessing most of the titles are remaindered or otherwise out of print, though there is also a selection of new magazines and children's books classics. It seems like a lot of thought has gone into the selection of the books.

One book which caught my eye was one called 百年の愚行, translated as One Hundred Years of Idiocy, a fetching title for sure. My curiosity didn't, however, extend to going so far as actually opening the book to see which human endeavors were being ridiculed.

Later, when I brought my photograph home, I did notice a couple of the names mentioned on the jacket — Claude Levi-Strauss and Freemon Dyson — not exactly what one would call idiots.

Not being familiar with the term 愚行 (gukou) I looked it up to find that my dictionary defined it as folly, or a foolish move, making me wonder if folly and idiocy were in fact synonyms. My gut told me they were not.

I looked them up to find that the latter, as a psychological term, meaning severe mental retardation, has fallen into desuetude due to its offensive tinge. In its normal everyday usage, when one just wants to call an idiot and idiot, it does mean extreme folly or stupidity, so I guess the question then becomes one of degree. An idiotic utterance or act implies that the person either had no brains or didn't bother to use them, whereas the person committing a folly may have blundered into a mistake through inattention or an insufficient grasp of the facts.

The reason all of this matters is that I could see Freemon Dyson be accused of folly, but not of idiocy. Regarding space exploration, particularly the search for life, he has been ridiculed for proposing that "an easy way to look for evidence of life in Europa's ocean is to look for freeze-dried fish in the ring of space debris orbiting Jupiter." (He argues that meteors splashing down on that planet would throw up large quantities of water, some of which would freeze. If there happened to be life swimming in those oceans, logically they would be thrown up and freeze too.)

In the global warming wars, he has taken a lot of criticism for his heretical views, especially his distaste for current climate change models (you can listen to him speaking of them here.) "[M]y objections to the global warming propaganda are not so much over the technical facts, about which I do not know much, but it’s rather against the way those people behave and the kind of intolerance to criticism that a lot of them have." (Hello Al Gore?)

Anyway, not having opened the book, I have no idea into what service poor Freeman has been called. I do know that my Tangorin translator gives me this as an example sentence for gukou: "Who lives without folly is not so wise as he thinks."

Speaking on the architecture of Wikipedia, Dyson has this to say: "Even in the noisiest system, errors can be reliably corrected and accurate information transmitted, provided that the transmission is sufficiently redundant. That is, in a nutshell, how Wikipedia works. ... Science is the sum total of a great multitude of mysteries. It is an unending argument between a great multitude of voices. It resembles Wikipedia much more than it resembles the Encyclopaedia Britannica."

So, more folly, less idiocy shall heretofore be our rallying cry.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wooden Delivery Boxes, Kyōto

Ujicha. A locally grown tea from Kyōto, Nara, Mie, and Shiga prefectures. (Click here for a geeky tutorial.)
I just liked the wooden box. Not sure what he's carrying in it.