Tag Archives: customs

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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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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The Last Picture Show

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I did a little impromptu nighttime campfire hanami with friends the other night. Other folks nearby sat out by the light of their headlights, car engine running all the while, to enjoy a spring night’s picnic.

Now the hanami season is all but over with rain and cold on tap for the rest of the weekend. Higher elevations and points east may still be worth going to next week.

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Time to Remember

Looking Back, Moving Forward

As we recall the surreal shock of the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster two years ago today, some photos showing the recovery and changes since then. More here.

Then as now, I’m headed to Toki City Hall to pay some taxes in preparation for tax day, March 15th. Not a coincidence, really. Dig out that National Health Insurance statement, and get those tax forms filled out and handed in. Finally, one more time-related housekeeping item to note: Remember, most of the U.S. switched over to Standard Time on Sunday; the time difference between here and the east coast is now 13 hours instead of 14. And guys, remember March 14th is White Day. Don’t disappoint.

On a Quiet Roll

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Today was setsubun, when people threw beans for luck and ate ehomaki sushi rolls like these at Sun Plaza supermarket in Toki. Tradition calls for eating the sushi without a sound and facing a certain direction each year. I think it was north this year. Psychologically, folks come to feel we’re turning to face spring.

Update: I guess it was south-southeast this year. And apparently you’re supposed to/can make a silent wish as you chew the roll up.

Brushes With the Future

Long Reads

Besides Coming-of-Age Day, celebrated the past two days, the new year also brings kakizome, or traditional calligraphic New Year’s messages or resolutions set down in stone-ground soot-based ink on long sheets of mulberry, bamboo or rice paper.

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We had a little fun at the office making some over the weekend. The non-Japanese among us (that would be me) forwent much practice (and thus pride), scribbling predictable prescriptions of weight loss on the oblong pearly parchment. Immediately after which we proceeded to partake of a delectable rum-raisin cheesecake made for me by one of my partners in premeditative penmanship.

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Others got into the spirit and piled up blotted, wrinkly stacks of practice sheets before committing their distilled goals to the scrolls. I was secretly amused at how much their kanji ability has suffered due to predictive text.

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The writing is normally done on January 2nd, and ceremonially burned on the fourteenth. I spent the fourteenth burning off the cheesecake. First things first.