A Tail of Two Cetaceans

Just when you thought the NOVA implosion was history, along comes a new one, this time exploding right from the start. It’s a real blast from the past – perhaps a millenium ago – whose light was discovered less than a week ago by an astronomer in Yamagata.

Nominally visible to the naked eye, Nova Delphini, in the minor constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, is the first such unaidedly eyeable cosmic event in six years. If you look toward the Summer Triangle, find the apex, the bright star Altair. Continue past the apex, and the Dolphin is basically swimming a short distance beyond (“above” the isosceles triangle vis-a-vis its short base between Vega and Deneb).

I harbor no illusions that the flecks in this iPhone photo are much of anything but “noise,” but the four-star diamond shape in the cloudy area does have a resemblance to the Dolphin. The nova itself probably isn’t visible here.

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I used a delayed shutter release, long-exposure app called SlowShutter, mounting the phone on a stable surface before the shutter opened, then deliberately covering the lens before “releasing (not plunging) the plunger” (picking the phone up to tap the shutter closed; the longest automatic alternative to the open-ended “bulb” setting is only 15 seconds). This exposure was 102 seconds at ISO 3200 (also set in the app), edited again afterward in the iPhoto app for exposure, resulting in the purple hue.

This was a couple nights back. Now that the moon is rising later, Nova Delphini might be visible until midnight or beyond. If you’re really interested, getting out into the country where there’s less ambient light would be worthwhile.

Are We Having Fun?

Jumping from one dolphin dispatch to another, the caption/comment on this Facebook post resonated with me, though some subsequent commenters jumped to the conclusion it was anti-science in tone. It wasn’t necessarily. And though there is potentially great value in analyzing phenomena like fun and play, I think there is something to the comment. I don’t know about the actual porpoise of the writer, but there are a least two kinds of people who might say what the writer did: those who are indeed making a facile anthropomorphic assumption, and those, in all likelihood a little more educated, who with affected humbler-than-thou self-effacement tend to assume only humans are capable of whimsy, or for that matter, evil. And let’s face it: Fun is generally not so fun when you stop to over-analyze it, though the devil of “over-” may be in the d(olphins’) tails. For now, I do think one thing we can rest assured humans fortunately maintain a sovereign, inalienable right to is the bad pun. No other species would touch that.

Through the Roof for Good Measure

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Like the city workers from the last entry, these high school students were also out measuring rising temperatures today with this high-flying contraption, possibly as part of their summer homework. They also seemed to be lowering something on a string below the bridge. I learned they were measuring the difference between asphalt-level and other air using the giant foil-wrapped phone receiver/steamship smokestack/tuba bell things hanging from the tall bamboo pole. All well and good, but it does seem everybody’s taking the temperature and nobody’s doing anything about it.

Window Dressing

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And as long as it’s a late summer slow news day the heat is making me repeat myself, here’s the stationary parasol of choice in these parts, a sudare screen, in this case one I put up at work next to our new covered deck to battle blinding sunset light. Naturally, just since I put it up, the sun seems to have started setting Stonehengelike behind a big building across the river, making my lean-to lattice largely moot.

Sun Roof

It’s been a while since I added to our little collection of objects and customs that live on in Japan but scarcely anywhere else. It’s a meme I call “cultural Galapagos.” Nothing necessarily implied as to good or bad – just idle observation. This is a good one, I think.

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It’s impossible to go very far outdoors without seeing someone shielding themselves from the sun with, yes, a parasol. It’s invariably* a woman under the usually black or off-white arch, presumably for skin protection, though in the absence of sunglasses or a visor it surely must save squinting eyes, too. On these days when every living creature seems to seek out and cling to any available scrap of shade (at “don’t walk” signs, I carefully maneuver myself into the shadow of even the skimpiest utility pole), taking your own umbrage is arguably the most basic form of self-defense short of the shirt on your back. Though there may have been a brief parasol pitching dalliance in the west a few years ago, the smart, sproutable sunscreen has survived in Japan as a cultural archetype for centuries, never really going out of fashion. Umbrellas for rain, for that matter, are also more common here. In more entrenchedly motorized lands, we tend to dash from car to building with nothing between us and the downpour.

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No relation to parasols other than as another manifestation of our steamy, sultry status, but various pairs like this, working for the city of Tajimi, were out with these curious-looking devices today, measuring temperature, heat as perceived by the body, and the effect of the heat on sound transmission (maybe; I couldn’t quite make out the quick answer they gave, and didn’t want to bother them by asking again. Then again, maybe the sound of their voice just didn’t carry in the heat. Or maybe that’s just so much of my own hot air).

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

*Update: Make that “variably.” After I wrestled yesterday with whether to make a gender association and finally settled on doing so, this man was out using a parasol this morning just to make me look self-consciously stoic. Invariably happens that way, doesn’t it?

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Dancing Center Stage

August Abandon Afoot

More midsummer fireworks lie loaded on the launchpad, if that’s your thing – Mizunami has their display tonight, as part of their 54th annual Mino Genji Tanabata Festival (a month after most other observances), featuring teams of dancers and taiko drummers on stage for the 16th year now. It takes place Friday through Sunday in front of Mizunami Station. Everyone is invited to hop into the frenzy of the parade. There’s also a “clay objêt” Toudo Festa competition, in which teams have a frenetic 48 hours to sculpt clay into whatever their imaginations can conjur up.

You could consider Mizunami’s Tanabata fest with its dancing a warmup for Nagoya’s 15th annual Nippon Domannaka Matsuri, or Domatsuri for short, to be held from August 23rd to 25th. Some 23,000 dancers on over 200 teams from all over Japan and the world will carouse and compete for championship original folk dance honors.

The only rules, according to the official website, are “each dancer must hold a naruko, or clapper, and … a melody from a local folk tune of the participants’ home area must be incorporated in the music.” As with Mizunami’s revelry, they encourage the audience to join in the dancing as a means of cross-cultural communication, and welcome last-minute entries without reservation, so to speak.

And as long as we’re on the subject of Nippon Domannaka (the very center of Japan), it’s not just figurative talk when people speak of our central location, or the logistical benefits of relocating the national capital to Gifu to help alleviate congestion in Tokyo.

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Here’s a picture of Yasaka Station, the centralmost station in Japan, on the Nagaragawa Railway Etsumi-Nan Line. The diesel-powered single-car line, which you can use to get from Mino Ota on the Taita Line to Gujo (station photo below), also stops at the centralmost hot spring in the country, accessible directly from Manthatsamouthful Minamikodakaraonsen Station (station and spa are under the same roof). Of course the all-night trance-like dances at Gujo are for many a must-see, gotta-groove to thing this time of year as well…

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…as is, for those who can bear to watch, the bridge-jumping, river-plunging tradition on the river you may be able to view from this walkway. I think they jump from the bridge just a few steps to the left of where I took this photo.

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Taster’s Choice

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Take Five

Upwards of forty downtown Tajimi establishments are teaming up for this first annual upcoming event, similar to a barhopping “machi-kon,” called “Yume Machi.” Over the course of two days, for the ¥3500 price of one ticket (¥4000 the starting day of the event), you can eat, drink, shop or otherwise partake of services at any five participating shops, restaurants, cafes or bars at no extra cost. You get a map of all the stops and a special hand fan to encourage walking from place to place and identify you as a participant.

It’s a good value, a way to try out some places you thought were out of your price range, and maybe even a chance to make some new friends. Event menus for each spot are here. Tickets are available at participating stores and through the website.

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The event flyer and website are also touting a smartphone app that seems to feature coupons and information on area events and businesses. It seems to be a web app and is called “Tono App.”

Points of Light

Toki has Bon dancing on Chuo Dori before and during its fireworks. Many people watching the dancing tonight seemed hardly interested in the skypoppers in the background. Among the various colorful yukata of both dancers and watchers were these robes I though depicted the swoopdown swallows I recently wrote about, until I realized they were great blue herons flying upward. Kind of Escherian, especially considering they both frequent the Toki River.

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Music for the dancing was performed by shamisen, shakuhachi bamboo flute and taiko players on a stage in the middle of the street, and emceed by a professional announcer.

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Rounded domes of fireworks patterns, lanterns, ceramic fuurin wind chimes, and, here, even a passing older gentleman’s white hair populated the evening’s floating world.

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On the subject of flashing points of light, I was hoping to show you photos of fireflies this summer, but they are even more elusive than I thought. Maybe next year.

And this is probably as appropriate a place as there’ll ever be for this indispensible nugget: After years of fruitless furtive roadbound glancing to see if anyone’s blinkers were in sync with mine (which futility led me to wonder if car manufacturers deliberately set every single car’s blinker timing differently so as to ensure each one stood out; two in synch and stacked in parallax could look like one, for instance), like a slap-happy syncopated lightning bug, I recently finally found visual harmony: a Suzuki Cervo ahead of me was flashing in unqualified perfect unison with my turn signal. Not some alternating in-phase, out-of-phase approximation. A lockstepped, serendipitous synchronicity, an amber alignment perchance mined from the same hunk of quartz somewhere in Brazil or backwoods Arkansas. It was sublime.

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And then, as the traffic light changed, like a fleeting fireworks trail or a fuurin bell’s fading ring, or summer itself, our do-si-do dance of light was gone.

Lots to Do

In case you’ve lost track, the weekend has an impressive lineup of events including:

  • The first of three live music Saturday beergardens tomorrow evening at the Sakazuki Art Museum in Ichinokura
  • A “machikon” beergarden atop a two-storey public parking lot in Tajimi to view the fireworks there on Sunday
  • A similar konkatsu (mixer) type affair at Secret Time Cafe on Saturday, where if you bring a date, there’ll be a special chance to enjoy Toki’s fireworks festival (not sure if it’s in their parking lot, but that would definitely be a nice spot); by reservation only. They’re still looking for takers last I heard
  • Something called Kokeizan Dining on Sunday, which sounds like a beergarden from one of Tajimi’s most scenic spots (advance purchase tickets required)
  • Neu Cafe, while itself closed after lunch Sunday, will be offering outside the shop draft beer, Okinawan food, curry, tandoori chicken sandwiches and more in the buildup to the fireworks
  • And of course Toki’s (Saturday) and Tajimi’s (Sunday) fireworks festivals with stalls set up all along the river (and Chuo Dori in Toki; Nagase Dori in Tajimi) all afternoon and evening; Tajimi’s festival is part of its Gozasse Natsu Matsuri

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These are just goings on I happen to be aware of. I’m sure there are plenty of others as well.

Quick Response

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This event took place on the banks of the Toki River in Tamiji Friday morning. From what I could see, it seemed to be a demonstration of the fire department’s typhoon/flood rescue capabilities, with people entering a mobile rain(bow?) simulator with umbrellas, rides in inflatable rafts, a cookout and Unagappa encounters.

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No sooner had they done this than Mother Nature obliged with a thunder-boomer deluge of her own. We do seem to have had more storms this summer.

Alien Life Forms

As aliens, unless we’re married to Japanese or have a permanent visa, life in Japan means getting, changing or renewing our visas from time to time. As the form-filling-out requirements aren’t necessarily consistent, and they unfortunately can’t tell you on the spot whether you need to submit more documents, the process may involve multiple trips to the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau (mailing is sometimes an option, but you risk missing strict deadlines if something gets held up in transit; Better safe than sorry).

Also, as the Ministry of Justice has done away with the alien registration card system, everyone will have to pick up a new resident card at the Bureau office to replace the temporary paper issued last year by your local city hall. And don’t forget to get a re-entry permit there before you leave Japan to travel – without one, your visa expires as soon as you leave. When you come back, you’ll just be a tourist on a three month permit with no right to work or study.* Anyway, it pays to know the way to the Bureau.

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From Tajimi or Toki, take the Chuo Line to Nagoya Station. Exiting through the central wickets, there’s no option, as far as I know, but to walk all the way to the west exit of the station, and then, staying inside the station, walk southward as far as you can until you get to the Aonami Line entrance toward the left.

Buy a separate ticket for ¥260 to Nagoya Keibajomae Station. Trains run about every 15 minutes. There are signs leading you to the immigration center from Keibajomae Station.

When you enter the building, there’s a general help center on the first floor to make sure your papers are in order. The main offices are on the second floor. Take a number (most likely on the right) and wait.

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On a recent trip there, I stopped at the Nagoya Station Towers, noticing that the haze made Nagoya Castle stand out (normally from there, I think it’s hard to pick out immediately). Other people took note, as well.

*Update: One benefit of the new system: In most cases, foreign residents won’t have to get re-entry permits anymore. You will have to notify Immigration any time between visa renewals (extensions) that you move or change jobs, which is different from before.

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