Category Archives: General

General

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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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.

Sounding Board?

I’ve written before about the serendiptous effects of background chatter in public places, but this article at Grubstreet.com made me wonder if the wooden slats you often see in area restaurants are part of this New York-born noisier-is-neater trend the article chronicles.

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These boxes on the wall at Secret Time Cafe are the closest thing to slats I have handy on my camera roll (more typically slatlike boards along and behind the counter at this post).

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Another place that comes to mind is Shinsui Cafe (the rounded corner between one whole wall and the ceiling is made up entirely of slats with gaps).

I don’t know. I think there’s a tradition of using wood slats in Japan, whatever the reason. I’ll ask some architect friends. In the meantime, though I often make use of the ambient indiscernable “rhubarb,” I think I’m glad I don’t live in New York.

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Home Fire Burning

All around town this evening, local families could be found standing and squatting around tiny ceremonial fires built to send the spirits of deceased relatives back to their afterlife abodes. These were “okuribi,” the complement to Saturday’s “mukaebi,” fires lit to usher ancestors back to Earth for their three-day Obon stay. Tajimi marks the event from July 13th to 15th, a month or so earlier than many other places. People prepare food placed at Buddhist altars in the home to feed their lost loved ones during the three day observance.

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On the north end of Tajimibashi Bridge, brightly lit paper lanterns were hung to flutter in the breeze and show departed souls the way home. Ceremonial boats made of eggplant to look like horses used to be sent down rivers like the Toki to send the souls off, but they’re now banned as an environmental hazard.

At the south end of the bridge, where Oribe Street heads into the Tajimi Ginza, stalls were set up for a mini-festival atmosphere. I was working and was only able to catch a few glimpses of all the activities as I drove home. Maybe I can bring you some photos next year. The shots below are of homemade outdoor mini-shrines near work.

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Tomorrow, more local ceremonies will be held to pray for good health through the summer. Several people I ran into were kind enough to explain all these traditions to me, but unfortunately I couldn’t understand everything they said.

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Summer Hotter Than Others

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Rainy season clouds have parted, giving way to a more typical summer variety, pointed out here by a pair of anemometers atop Tajimi Station. Below, the sun loses the battle of the blue and the grey for the last time. Now it’s here to stay.

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Large (behe?)moths have descended en masse, my neighborhood supermarket has started eel cookouts, folks are breaking out the fireworks along the river near work, and Toki has already begun water shortage warning announcements. Summer is here. Yesterday and today reached 99° F. I’ve heard this year may be a hot one for the ages.

Update: It was almost 102° today. Good enough for number two in the nation.