Log in

No account? Create an account

Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Palatable Truths
It all began last night, when my daughter asked me to describe the roof of my mouth.

"Er, ordinary?" I replied.

Unsatisfied, she demanded ocular proof, and on examining my hard palate cried "Aha!" in a very significant tone. By this she meant, it turned out, that it was like her own - i.e. that my hard palate was markedly concave, and that any homunculus who might find themselves wandering around on my tongue would find themselves staring up at it as at the vaulted roof of a gothic cathedral.

"Isn't that normal?" I asked, confused. It occurred to me that at no point in my life had the subject come up.

According to her boyfriend (himself the offspring and brother of doctors) it is not normal: most hard palates run pretty horizontally back from the top of the teeth. Indeed, people with "high-arched palate" (for it is graced with the title of "condition") are prone to all kinds of minor annoyances, from crowded teeth to sleep apnea - to both of which I plead guilty.

I felt a bit like Molière's bourgeois gentilhomme on discovering that he had been speaking prose all his life, or perhaps Tony Hancock on being informed that he was AB negative. But even now, I'm not sure whether this is an unusual thing. I can find nothing on the internet about the incidence of HAP (as I feel I must call it). Is it really rare, or is it on a par with being left-handed, say?

Of course, what I'm really asking is, what's the roof of your mouth like?

The Three Unrelated Topics of Britain
One thing I meant to mentioned in my last post is that, driving through the New Forest naturally took me and Haruka to Lyndhurst, and that as we were waiting to turn at a junction she remarked on the White Rabbit Cafe over the road. "Why is it called that?" she asked, recognising the Lewis Carroll reference (because Alice is Big in Japan).

It took me a moment to remember that Lyndhurst is the place where Alice Hargreaves (née Liddell) is buried. It took a couple of minutes more to get this concept across, though. Language issues aside, that Alice might be dead - or ever have been alive, or, worse, an old woman, or somebody who lived well into the 1930s - was a difficult thing to accept mentally. I offered to show her Alice's grave - but the offer was declined, and I can't blame her.

Today's news that harmful gender stereotypes are being banned from advertising seems likely to throw up some interesting disputes in months to come. What is a stereotype, and among stereotypes which ones are harmful? Perhaps "gender-critical" feminists could concentrate on that for a bit and take a break from bullying trans people? Actually, one of my earliest posts on this blog was about that kind of advertising. So many no-longer-on-LJ friends' voices! But also a few who are still around.

I think my favourite radio programme from the last week was The Patch. An apparently lightweight format, in which a journalist picks a UK postcode at random and heads there to find human interest stories, gradually morphed into a really effective piece of investigative journalism that elegantly demonstrated just how government money gets wasted on vanity projects while basic needs remain unfunded. And there were human interest stories too!

Lolling and Lulling
Last week my friend Haruka arrived in the UK for a six-week visit. Our house is too small to accommodate a guest for so long, having no spare bedroom, but of course my mother's is currently empty, so she is house-sitting for us, a satisfactory arrangement all round.

Anyway, I went to meet her at the station and stayed for a couple of days to see her settled in. We took the opportunity to visit Mottisfont Abbey, just up the road, where I'd not been for several years and which has got ridiculously expensive in the interim. That said, their famous rose garden was rather splendid, so I don't regret it. I always think of Mottisfont fondly, partly for toponymic reasons (there's a spring there, where moots were held in pre-Conquest days), and partly because it was the sort-of setting for my book, Death of a Ghost - although I moved it a bit nearer the Solent for the purpose. It was pretty busy, too, although everyone else was 70 plus. I guess that's what rich, retired people do - sit in the Mottisfont stableyard cafe and choose the next Prime Minister over cherry cake.

The next day was lovely, so we took the opportunity to go to the New Forest - where we saw a selection of stackable ponies of various sizes - before heading on to Wimborne Minster and the Cerne Abbas Exhibitionist. Also, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door (and the rather steep walk between them), where amazingly I'd never been. It deserves its reputation...


It was a very nice break between marking and external examining, but now I'm back in Bristol, and just coming up for air to make this simple post, while outside the rain washes all away...

A List in Wonderland
How did Alice in Wonderland get to be so big in Japan? Talking about this with a friend the other day, I speculated that it got lucky, because it was published around the time of the Meiji restoration, so when the Japanese government was looking to Westernise in the area of children's literature (along with railways, science, music, etc.) it must have been an obvious choice.

Turns out that's not quite right. Wikipedia confides that the earliest Japanese translation wasn't until 1910, a couple of decades later than I'd have guessed... Which just goes to show that plausible theories hatched in a pub aren't always spot on.

It's interesting to see the names they chose, though. These days, the book is universally known as 不思議の国のアリス, which translates roughly to "Alice in the Country of Wonders." All the 18 editions published since 1955 have had that name, and the two before that were pretty similar: 不思議な国のアリス ("Alice in the Wonderful Country," 1950) and 不思議国のアリス ("Alice in Wonderland," 1928). Admittedly, some of my translation choices here are a bit arbitrary, but they're clearly all circling around the English title, more or less.

But it wasn't always thus. Earlier, we had quite a variety:

1910 愛ちやんの夢物語 ("The Story of Love-kin's Dream") [Okay, I don't think "Love-kin" is a good translation of "Ai-chan", but it's closer than "Alice"!]
1912 アリス物語 ("The Story of Alice")
1923 アリスの不思議國めぐり ("Alice's Tour of Wonderland")
1925 まりちやんの夢の國旅行 ("Marie's Journey in the Country of Dreams")
1925 お轉婆アリスの夢 ("The Dream of Alice the Hoyden") ["Hoyden" was the best match I could find for お轉婆, but I'm open to suggestions!]

The status of the story as a dream-narrative is generally emphasised, as you can see - perhaps because dream narratives fitted an established narrative niche?

Anyway, I don't have any grand point to make, but I thought it was kind of interesting, and I'm leaving it here for later reference.

There is no Second Floor
In my lifetime, British English has succumbed to American influence in numerous ways. Who now uses the good old British billion, for example? Floors are another area in which I've noticed some linguistic drift. As you know, in Britain the bottom floor is the ground floor, from which (going up) we reach the first floor, second floor, third floor, and so on. In the US, the first floor is the bottom one.

I've noticed the British practice wavering for a while now. For example, large buildings such as hotels often number their rooms using the floor number as the first digit, and those numbers are usually number American style. Naturally this causes confusion.

Anyway, just as paleontologists particularly value those fossils that show an organism caught midway through an evolutionary change, I was interested to see this barber in Clifton the other day. First, let me show you (courtesy of Google street view) what it used to look like:

hair on hill old style

As you can see, this three-storey building mentions a first floor (upstairs) and also a top floor.

More recently, an extra sign has been added:


Now, the building is divided into Ground Floor, First Floor and Third Floor.

Whatever happened to the second floor? I suggest that it has been lost in the crack between two numbering systems. The barbers knew that the bottom floor was the ground, and they knew that the floor above that was the first floor. But, rather than extent that system indefinitely, they thought, "Oh, that's three floors up, so it must be the third floor."

I don't say this is interesting, let alone important, but I think it's kind of neat.

“The Gashleycrumb Resignies”
I put a version of this little poem on Facebook a month or so ago, and for some reason didn't share it here at the time. Since it's about to become definitively outdated, I'm making that good now.

“The Gashleycrumb Resignies”
(with apologies to Edward Gorey, and to the alphabet)

A is for Amber, who misled the House,
B is for Boris, a self-serving louse,
J is for Justine, who flounced out in scorn,
D is for Damian, too fond of porn.
M is for Michael, whose conduct “fell short,”
G is for Gavin, who leaked a report.
P is for Priti - held talks on the sly:
Just one more Tory caught out in a lie.
Etc.'s all those who quit over Brexit,
And T’s for Theresa - let’s show her the exit!

It occurs to me that it would be possible to write something similar for the current administration in the land of Gorey's birth, but of course it's not my place to do it...

Japanese Diary 39: Having Something Stolen
To learn Japanese (or any language) is also, of course, to learn one's own. I think this was first borne in on me at primary school, when I realised that "new" could be translated as "neuf" or "nouveau" depending on whether it was "brand new" or "new to me." A bit later, the difference between "aber" and "sondern" in German made me look at "but" in a whole new way (it's the difference between "I'm tired but happy" and "I'm not tired but happy").

And, of course, I've had many similar experiences in Japanese, for example with distinctions that don't exist in English ("watasu" versus "tsutaeru" for "convey," depending on whether the object is a thing or a message, for an example that came up very recently), or indeed ones that don't exist in Japanese ("ashi" means both "leg" and "foot," to take one of the more mind-blowing ones).

Today my friend Mami was telling me how someone had stolen her friend's bag when she was travelling. I can't remember what she said, but it was slightly off, grammatically, and I corrected it to "You friend had her bag stolen."

This confused her, as well it might, since the construction looks exactly like the one we use when we purposely arrange for someone to do something to something for us, e.g. "I had my kitchen rewired." I'd never noticed the similarity before. Indeed, it only works when referring to the subject's own property: "I had your bag stolen" sounds as if it's spoken by a criminal mastermind.

Are there are any other verbs that allow a similar construction to "I had my bag stolen" (i.e. someone stole my bag)? I can't think of any right now.

Local Plants for Local People
Sometimes I'm glad to be as ignorant of plants and their history as I generally am. I'm thrown out of historical dramas all too easily by linguistic anachronisms, so imagine if I regularly had to contend with botanical ones!

I had a taster of this watching Emma on Netflix with my daughter a couple of days ago. Suddenly I sat up straight, exclaiming, "But that's a well-established wisteria! And Emma was published in 1815!"


As you will know, wisteria was not introduced to Britain until the following year, and took several years to flower. (I would not know this but that wisteria is a flower that I've taken a particular interest in, because Japan.)

"You're just like X!" she said, naming her boyfriend. "When we watched North and South he couldn't get beyond the naturalised sycamores."

Now I wonder whether the country is full of frustrated horticulturalists who daren't watch anything set before 1860, for fear of spotting an exotic.

I began this tale of adventure in the (for me) unlikely context of seeing an advert for the Rugby World Cup, so there is a pleasing roundness to the fact that for the last two nights of my stay in Japan I was staying next to the National Stadium, in a sports hotel where rugby fever, if not yet overflowing, was nicely on the simmer. More immediately, from the restaurant I had an excellent view of a professional baseball ground, and watched a few innings of the game between the home team, the Yakult Swallows (really!) and Osaka’s Hanshin Tigers. Fun fact: the stadium is owned by Meiji Jingu Shrine.


Not that I really understood what I was seeing, but there was a large and enthusiastic crowd, and altogether it looked much like the only other game I’ve been to, at Yankee Stadium in 1986.

I often regret that Japan took to baseball rather than Test cricket, the subtlety and meandering indirection of which would have suited Japanese culture well. What other game has tea breaks written into its laws? Ashis Nandy's famous declaration that “Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English” might have applied to Japan just as well. But, shou ga nai. And there’s no doubt that the baseball bug bit hard and deep in the Japanese psyche. For a long time I assumed it was a post-War phenomenon, but not at all - although during the war itself, they tried to Japanise the terminology, only for it to largely revert to English later. (I wonder if "yakyuu" [baseball] dates from that time, or earlier?)

My last day saw me meet up variously with Hiroko, Yoshiko and Mihoko, once again - including a visit to Kameido Tenjin shrine - dedicated to the same kami-cum-exiled scholar whose main shrine I visited three years ago in Dazaifu, and hence popular with those seeking success in exams. It seemed an appropriate segue back into the world of the university... but also another chance to view wisteria, which I did in the company of Hiroko, some turtles and a coincidental heron.


I've mentioned the beginning of the reiwa era a few times here, I think. I've been making a bit of a reiwa collection, in fact, the transition from living emperor to living emperor being a unique event in modern Japanese history. It's not just a matter of the change of individuals, of course; the eras they represent are far more firmly embedded in everyday consciousness in Japan than here, and have their own names distinct from the emperor's personal name (which is never used). I think there was something of a fad for talking about the "new Elizabethans" back in the early '50s when it had novelty value, but who does that now? Or uses regnal years? In Japan, however, the era name and year are visible in all kinds of official and formal documents, from wedding invitations to driving licences. Psychologically and culturally, it's a bigger deal. (That said, of course, I've never experienced an era change in the UK - and nor has anyone else under 67.)

In this context, I thought it would be interesting to see how it was marked, so I made a point of photographing the change's more ephemeral manifestations as opportunity presented. Many of these are commercial: it's not surprising that people decided to make a quick yen or two selling Heisei air, for example. But not all.

The Reiwa CollectionCollapse )

I'll leave Japan with one more piece of uplifting Japanglish. Would you buy socks with this slogan? "JamgardEn. The original point of our brand concept is 'Jam our worldwide view and element of femininity into one Garden.'"


The flight back was uneventful, if very long. I finished Killing Eve, and was glad to see they didn't go down the Fiona Shaw villain route, though they teased it. I watched and cried three times (one less than the strapline promised) at "コーヒーが冷めないうちに" (Before the Coffee Gets Cold), a bittersweet time-slip story of a kind they are very fond of in Japan. It was only when I got a cab from Bristol bus station that I realised I was back in the UK. My Eritrean driver asked me in a friendly way about my trip, and we compared the low crime rates of Japan and Eritrea (contrasted favourably with Uganda by my driver - sorry, Haawa). At the end, though, he opined that, although the honesty and hard work of the Japanese were admirable, these would avail them nothing because they were not followers of the One True God. Then I saw the crucifix swinging from his rear-view mirror. I wanted to say, "At least Buddhists and followers of Shinto don't kill each other." But I was too tired.

I was thinking it hard, though.

Matsuri Miscellany
Two slightly awkward incidents.

I went into a shop and looked at some traditional sweets (I was thinking of buying some as a present). After a minute a young assistant came and asked me in fairly good English whether she could help. I replied (also in English) "I'm fine, thank you." That should have been that, but she was friendly and persistent. She started to tell me about the sweets, and went to fetch me a sample.

At this point I entered the zone of uncertainty. Was it better to pretend not to know any Japanese, since we started on that foot? That had been my initial strategy, but now it looked as if the encounter was to be extended might there not come a point at which it became dishonest to feign ignorance? (And also, if I'm honest, more than my ego could bear?) But, if so, would that point arrive sooner or later than the point at which it would be too late to tell her? I wasn't sure - and guessed wrong, of course, or so it seemed to me afterwards, by revealing my secret Japanese speaking identity just a little too late for it not to be awkward. Nevertheless, the following day I returned to the scene of the crime in the company of Haruka and Eriko (who was visiting), and the same assistant greeted us warmly, and in Japanese.

Later, in a café toilet I noticed that someone had left an umbrella in my cubicle. I thought it would be a kindness to leave it just outside the cubicle, in case the owner came back for it when it was occupied. A mother and two small children were there at the same time, and saw me do this.

Ten minutes later, and several streets away, the same small family accosted me. (Had they really followed me? Had they been scouring the streets?) Anyway, they had the umbrella. The mother encouraged the boy - maybe four years old - to return it to me, which he attempted to do, evidently believing that I'd left it by accident. I explained that the umbrella wasn't mine, only to see the virtuous pride in his eyes turn to disappointment as I spurned his chivalry. I felt guilty - but better that than being a receiver of stolen goods, surely? Or would it have been better to take it, then wait till they were out of sight, and hand it in at the local police box (which I happened to be standing next to)?

Perhaps I overthink things. But sometimes I underthink things, too. The effects are much the same.

Meanwhile, the Odawara matsuri was happening over the weekend - three days of festival food (think yakisoba, yakitori, and various other yaki things), and a lot of omikoshi (portable Shinto shrines) being carried about the town. I've tried and failed to upload this to Flickr, so have had to resort to YouTube for this example of the unique (I think?) Odawara style "Holy Dash":

It rained later, and I was charmed to see that shrines come with rain covers, much like children's buggies:


Meanwhile, from the "every dog has its day" department, I bring you the surprisingly delicious asparagus and cheese hot dog:


Oh, and here's Fuji again. I was rather pleased with this Hiroshige-esque picture of a domestic street scene, in the background of which Fuji broods like a fond old white hen:


Fun Time is Short. Please Use Effectively
This was the message on a T-shirt nightie that I saw in Don Quixote the other day. There’s nothing so very wrong with the English, but I wasn’t sure how to read it, considering that the writer almost certainly didn’t have English as a first language. Was it a humorous hint to a potential lover that they (or the wearer) might be lacking in the stamina department? Or a poignant attempt to invoke the ancient carpe diem tradition? Or a clumsy translation of some culturally opaque Japanese sentiment? I don't suppose I'll ever know.

These days, I don’t linger over outright errors in English as I used to. If you see a sign in your Airbnb bathroom saying “Please remove the hair of the ditch,” it’s easy enough to work out that it’s trying to tell you to clear the shower drain after you wash your hair, after all. More interesting are things that almost make sense but hit some grammatical or semantic wrong note. Why, for example, did I find it so amusing that a hotel toilet roll holder should exhort me (on the grounds of ecology) to “Keep using toilet paper till the end”? It sounds like a noble credo, but still.

It's striking how many T-shirts, bags, notepad covers, and so on, are full of vacuously uplifting sentiments rendered in English. "Time spent at ease helps me to relax," one bag in my possession helpfully informs me, teetering on the brink of tautology and then toppling in. Or, take this sign, spotted in Enoshima:


I stared at this for a full minute, trying to work out whether it made sense, and if so what kind. What do you think?

But I digress. Or perhaps pregress, since the digression came first. You last saw me in the northern tip of Japan, in Aomori - but 25th April found me and Mami aboard the shinkansen, in my case all the way to Tokyo and then on to Yokohama, where I was to spend a night prior to going on to Odawara. I had no other reason to visit Yokohama than the facts that I'd never been there and it was more or less on the way, but that was good enough for me. I booked myself a room overlooking the bay.

The first problem came when I got out of the taxi. My controversial suitcase, which lost the use of a wheel earlier in the trip, chose this moment to lose its handle as well. Not only that, but when I manage to schlepp it up to my room, I discovered I was also missing my camera (last seen taking a photo of my scallop bento on the shinkansen). Those were not a good ten minutes.

The camera seemed a lost cause, but at least the suitcase broke in a major city, where luggage was freely on sale. So, although I had intended to sample the decadent delights of Minatomirai, I spent most of my time in Yokohama suitcase shopping. First, though, I did take a few photos of my nice bay view, using an iPad:


and behold the same at night:


And here is the pleasant seafront Yamashita Park:


It turns out that Japanese luggage is pretty expensive. My new case cost me more than four times as much as my old one (and was by no means top of the range). This may however be an index of what a piece of junk my old one was more than anything else. And I did get the sales tax taken off, so no hard feelings. After that, an anchovy pizza and bed.

The following day was drizzly, but my hotel was really close to the Yokohama Chinatown, so I ventured that far.


I wanted to eat a meat bun, but they are apparently insanely popular with Japanese school children, and every stall had a queue like this one, rain or no:


So, I made do with meat and potatoes (じゃが芋と豚肉 to you) at a small Japanese café round the corner. I think it may have been the first time - this trip, anyway, where I've been so much in company - that I ventured solus into a place so obviously not geared to tourists, but luckily the host was kindly and my Japanese on particularly good form, and I had a lovely time talking about sakura with him.

To Odawara then I came, where I've been ever since, enjoying the company of Haruka and her mother Yuko. Although we've had plenty of little day trips I've not been keeping a daily record, in part because my camera-less state discombobulated me, iPad notwithstanding. But here are a few highlights from the last week.

Last year, Mount Fuji played hide and seek with me. Despite my being so close to it in Odawara, I couldn't get a good photograph, due to mist, cloud, etc. This time it's been less coy, and here - as a for instance - is Fuji from the roof of the house I'm staying in, and again at Enoshima, with Haruka and Yuko:

Active volcanoes for the win!!

Odawara Castle in the Rain

A Wisteria Trellis.

The Japanese word for wisteria is also fuji (different kanji), and this is something else I'd been wanting to see for a while, though I believe there are far more spectacular ones. In the UK we tend to grow wisteria up walls, which looks nice, but is a shocking waste of its dangling potential.

Disappointingly Flaccid Koinobori. We were in the precincts of a shrine, so I took the opportunity to pray for wind so that we could see the carp streamers flying for children's day (admittedly not until 5th May): no dice.

Warriors at the Odwara Festival, glimpsed through trees...


Henry Moore and Anthony Gormley a long way from home at the Hakone Outdoor Sculpture Park. Visiting Hakone from Odawara was a strangely moving experience for me. It was just the same trip I'd made, alone and friendless (though perfectly happy) in Japan four years ago on my first visit. How different everything looked!

Oh, and of course, this being Japan, my lost camera wasn't really lost. It was found, packaged neatly, and sent to me here in Odawara by delivery service (complete with black cat), all for about £6.50. Thanks, Kiki!


In the Deep North
Although I was in time to see a fair bit of sakura in Tokyo and Osaka, the blossoms having lingered longer than usual in the unseasonably cold spring air, I wasn't able to catch them at their finest. For that I had to travel north, overtaking the ebbing sakura tide in Aomori Prefecture in the northernmost tip of Honshu - a place that has intrigued me for a while now. For this part of my trip I was joined by Mami, with whom I stayed in Gunma Prefecture last year when visiting Lockheart Castle. We began our stay in Hirosaki, where the local castle was about to begin its annual cherry blossom festival. Officially it wouldn't start until the following day, but that just meant that we were able to wander into the castle grounds without paying. It was beginning to get dark by then, but that of course is no impediment to the enjoyment of cherry blossom in Japan, where "yozakura" or "night cherry blossom viewing" is an established custom, and lights are set up to show everything to advantage.

Blossoms, Floats and TombsCollapse )

Ancient Monument Envy
I can now acknowledge that fact that, as a child growing up in Hampshire in the 1970s, I suffered Ancient Monument Envy. Charming and historical as Hampshire was, and much as I enjoyed visiting Danebury Ring, just up the Test Valley, it didn’t seem to have as many or as famous monuments as the surrounding counties. Wiltshire, the border of which was just four miles away, won hands down of course by being home to both Stonehenge and Avebury; Dorset to the west did pretty well too with Maiden Castle and the Cerne Abbas Giant. Up in the north, Berkshire could boast (at least in the pre-1974 Local Government Reorganisation world where my imagination will always dwell) the Uffington White Horse and Wayland’s Smithy. Even Sussex, out to the east, had the Wilmington Man.

Only Surrey, far away on the north-east border, seemed no better endowed, from a prehistoric point of view. But it was hard to preen. Yes, we had Winchester, and thus Camelot, but only according to Malory - and Arthur wasn’t even pre-Roman.

Did anyone else think about things in this kind of way? Only you can tell me.

Easter Parade
So, last Saturday - was it really almost a week ago? - I got on the shinkansen and headed west, to spend a couple of days seeing friends in Kobe and Osaka. It was quite a complex schedule, and it didn't help that towards the end one of my suitcase wheels broke. That was not only inconvenient in itself, but gave me a "Three Wheels on my Wagon" earworm, which was almost worse.

Before that, however, I met up with Eriko to tour the sake breweries of Kobe's Uozaki district. We walked to four, altogether: the weather was warm and it was thirsty work, but luckily there were plenty of free samples to keep us going. Here's the business end of a sake factory, in case you're interested:


And here's its public face:


In one of the factories we were given about 9 different samples (by the end I'd lost the ability to count higher than 5, so the figure is approximate) by an octogenarian sake master, whose stand was surrounded by newspaper cuttings with pictures of him in various sake-related stories - clearly quite a character. He had a twinkle in one eye and a squint in the other, and according to Eriko probably gave us more samples than usual because I was a foreigner (and also, I like to think, lovely). Anyway, by the end I wanted a nice sit-down in a cafe somewhere, but the Uozaki district deals exclusively in sake, so it took some finding. I was very grateful in the end to find this place, where some of the chairs are made to look like second-hand pews, complete with space for prayer book. In the UK I've only seen such things where they've been salvaged from disused churches, but apparently in Japan people make them specially, presumably for kitsch value:


This would not be the last time I'd discover Christian kitsch in Japan, and the next occasion would be far more egregious, but you'll have to wait till a later entry for that.

Meanwhile, after a brief rest at my hotel I had dinner with a Skype friend, Mitsuko, whom I've known as a language partner for a few years but was meeting only now. I took the opportunity to eat what is known here as a "Thompson's Tart," which from the picture on the menu I thought (with a rush of excitement) might feature gooseberries. In fact they were only grapes, but it was still pretty good.


The following day was Easter Sunday, and my friend Yuka had invited me to an Easter event-cum-strawberry festival, complete with bonnets. She was with two of her children, whom I was meeting for the first time, and who were a lot of fun - as well as being very helpful in getting my Easter bonnet ready at a local takoyaki place (we had three types: spring onion, mentaiko and plain old octopus).


I'd brought the ingredients for the bonnet, including a few daffodils and leeks as a kind of patriotic gesture, but have never been terribly crafty. These denizens of the land of origami, however, soon put things to rights. Here is Yuka modelling the final result:


The strawberry festival was a small affair in a local house used for community events. The atmosphere was lovely, with various food and craft stalls in the garden and outer rooms, and of course a delicious strawberry filling at its centre. In fact, I was the only one there with a bonnet, so definitely won the parade, although there were a few bunny masks, ears and so on.


I could easily have stayed longer, but had to leave for Minoh City, where I was to stay with Eriko that night - a slightly complex journey. Before going to her house, however, we took a short hike up into the monkey-strewn mountains (not that I saw any). The landscape was quite dramatic, with the remains of the damage from a typhoon 18 months ago still very visible, and trees tossed about like discarded toothpicks from an izakaya of the gods. To sustain us, we ate some of the local snack, maple leaf tempura - one of those things that really ought not to work but does...


... and were rewarded by a very nice waterfall, one of those phenomena for which I am a sucker. Here is Eriko standing in front it:


It was on the walk back from dinner that night (kushiage/kushikatsu, or fried things on skewers, one of Osaka's many delicious specialities) that we discovered the fate of my suitcase wheel. It was too late to do anything about it, and the next day I was off to the northern tip of Honshu, Aomori Prefecture. In fact it was to be a problem for days to come, until things eventually came to head when...

But that, dear reader, must be for another post.

Lost in Interpretation
No doubt you have been feeling thoroughly abandoned as far as my Japan blog is concerned, and not without reason. My busyness has continued without let over the last week, and the present opportunity – as I travel north into deepest Touhoku on a shinkansen bound for Aomori – is the first I’ve had in about a week, when I’ve been both a) awake and b) alone (except for all the other passengers, but we try to give each other space) for a few hours together. In short, I’m an introvert who’s been living the life an extrovert, and my admiration for the latter has only increased. How do they keep it up?

Still, when I think that I came here four years ago for the first time knowing nobody at all, I'm certainly not going to complain.

As luck would have it, there are some experiences I can skip over quickly, either because they’re things I’ve written about before or because they don’t make for a spectator sport. One such is my second visit to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka last Monday. Two years ago, I went alone. This time, having ordered the tickets on the internet months in advance at 1am (effectively the only way to do it) I was with Mihoko, Satomi, and Mihoko’s honorary nephew, Mark, born in Tokyo to an Anglo-American couple, and – having lived in the States for a while – trying his luck at working in Japan. I think I would be thoroughly confused if fate played such a game of blind man’s buff with me, but he seemed anything but deracinated. We had a good time, and although Tokyo was still going through its seasonal 三寒四温 (three [days] cold, four hot) we were lucky enough to hit on a spring day that fully justified my flowery new espadrilles.


This was followed by dinner at Miho’s, where her husband Hiroshi – having cooked rather delicious tendon (that’s tempura on rice, not, er, tendon) – made me go pink with pleasure by commenting on the improvement in my Japanese. He’s not the kind of man to pay such a compliment lightly. (That said, my Japanese too is 三寒四温: sometimes I think I’m really “getting” it, at others I can hardly resent the well-meaning “There-are-chopsticks-inside” that I just received from person who sold me an eki-bento. A lot depends on how tired I am.)

I don’t think I’ve mentioned here that I’ve been collaborating on/contributing to a book on Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe series. It’s Miho’s project, really: she was the one who introduced me, not to the books but to the house and its chatelaine, as avid readers of this blog will know. Anyway, she asked me to check some of the Japanese contributors’ English while I was here, which is largely what has been taking so much of my time. On Tuesday, that time was spent very pleasantly at the house of her colleague (and old schoolfriend) Keiko, who is a designer specialising in soundscapes, and whose beautiful house in Suginami reflects her designer’s eye.

We met behind Tokyo Joshidai, my old stamping ground from 2017, whence we walked past a tiny farm owned by yet another of their high-school chums. Keiko bought some vegetables, paying using the honesty box – which was pretty impressive for what is, after all, relatively central Tokyo. This system is not at all uncommon in Japan, but in the UK I’ve seen it only in the countryside.


Then we went through a park with a lake with an island, said to be the habitation of a kami, though if it’s a shrine it’s an unofficial one. The reason for the holiness (or its main manifestation, if you prefer to look at it that way round) is a spring, which kept the village watered in former times. As we passed, a family walked past the other way, and I heard a young boy say (slightly petulantly) “神様が見えない”, which might mean “I can’t see the god” or “The god is invisible,” but given the note of complaint I suspect the former.

We will pass over the editing work, but check out the lovely interiors!


Wednesday morning I met with Philip Seaton, co-organiser of last year’s Contents Tourism symposium, in Musashi-Sakai, a bit further west than Mitaka. It was good to see him again, and talk about possible future collaborations. He told me quite a bit about life in Japan for a foreign academic, as well, and for the father of child with autism – which is not all plain sailing, you may be sure. On the plus side, his son’s autism partly takes the form of an obsession with the layouts of department stores, and thanks to this he was able to tell me that in Japan – and perhaps everywhere? – there are never any toilets on the ground floor. A deterrent, I suppose, to casual urination. This is a useful life hack.

I went on to have lunch with my friend Yuki, after which we wandered the shrines and cat-focused shopping streets of one of Tokyo’s more traditional districts, Yanaka. I was particularly happy to find a little shrine where sakura and wisteria (aka fuji) were in bloom together, like a little Spring miracle.

Sakura and Fuji bloom togetherDSC02510

As I returned, I was met by Junko, my landlady, who was suffering a heavy cold and was a bit flustered because a new guest (she thought from Indonesia) had no Japanese, and would I help interpret? I told her I’d be happy to try. In fact, the “Indonesian” turned out to be an English potter living in the Gower peninsula, who’d come to Japan on a kind of pottery pilgrimage. I managed to sort out the communication problem, which was rather empowering – my first interpreting gig! The price I exacted was to make Junko (plus dog) pose for a photograph, poor suffering woman…


In experimental vein, I tried out the local Indian restaurant for dinner, choosing the “beer set” – which combined lamb and spinach (I’d been a-hankering for lamb, which is not generally on the Japanese menu outside of Hokkaido, where the famous “Genghis Khan” is a dish I long to try) with a nan bread. The curry itself was fine, though nothing special, but the nan was amazing. Huge, and light, and crisp, and fluffy, all at once – a like a kind of Garden of Adonis that gathers every season unto itself.

On Thursday I had lunch with Hirohisa Igarashi, a professor at Toyou University, again about possible collaborations. He’s a very charming man, and took me to a charming Italian place. Although we started off in Japanese, I found my capacity slowly ebbing away like an iPhone’s battery, and bit by bit we switched to English (in which he is, in any case, far more proficient). He gave me a little tour of the university, too, including the viewing gallery on its top floor, where a Chinese violinist was playing traditional music to set off the Sky Tree and the rest of the Tokyo skyline. Could I revive within me her symphony and song… but I didn’t have the record button on.


Then I went on to Nakano Broadway to buy more Kin-iro Mosaic. As you can see, they are all about welcoming in the new era there:


I am collecting, as I encounter them, ways in which the change of era is being acknowledged. I’m interested in whether it’s just seen as a commercial opportunity, as with the T-shirts an entry or two back, or indeed in this poster, which advertises its PREMIUM SALE on the grounds that it’s the last of the Heisei era. (Next month, the same sale will no doubt be advertised as the first of the Reiwa.)


These are of course just the very visible ripples on a deep sea of culture, but not without value or curiosity.

After that, it was dinner at Miho’s with Mikako and Nobu (my interpreter at the National Diet Library two years ago, whose English I am also checking), and so to bed.

On Friday I was giving a lecture at Taisho University for Yoshiko, as I have done, now, twice before. The drill was much the same, so I won’t describe it in detail, but I gave them a potted version of my Cotswolds research, after which I had a nice chat with the students, and then an even nicer dinner (as is by now traditional) with Yoshiko and Hiroko, eating, drinking, and making scholarly. I first met them at a conference in Ohio three years ago, and have been knocking back sushi and sake ever since – albeit with long periods of abstinence, when the trifling matter of an intervening Eurasian continent adjourns our fun. I’m sure we’ll find a way to get back on track at IRSCL in Sweden this summer, though, albeit with surströmming (possibly) and vodka substituting for our accustomed fare.


And thus closed my time in Tokyo. On Saturday I boarded the shinkansen for Kobe, where I had a different set of adventures, but perhaps that’s enough – or more than enough – for now.

When is an Adjective a Label?
A few years ago, John Boyne had a hit book, later a film, in which he told the story of an oppressed group from the point of view of a member of the group doing the oppressing, and made the latter's suffering the centre of the story.

This device clearly worked so well for him that he has apparently done it again, in a different arena. His latest novel (which I won't name here, because even the title is pretty horribly transphobic) has caused quite a flurry on Twitter, I gather. I suppose I'll have to read it at some point, because I'm meant to be giving a lecture on this kind of fiction later in the summer, but it can certainly wait until I get back to England.

What I want to mull about in this post isn't his novel, which sounds terrible, so much as an article he recently published to promote it, in which he joins the ranks of those disavowing the word "cis." The reason he gives is a familiar one, and one that has some superficial plausibility: one shouldn't foist labels onto people who don't wish to accept them. He doesn't "identify as" a cis man, but simply as a man.

The obvious riposte is a tu quoque: how would Boyne (who is gay) feel if straight men refused to be described as such, despite being attracted exclusively to the opposite sex? If they said, "How dare you call me a straight man - I'm just a man!"? At best, it would seem a rather strange thing to say. More likely, he would hear it as a way of dividing the world into gay people and "normal" people.

Or, let's take a different kind of case. How would Boyne feel if someone described him as six feet tall? (Let's assume for the sake of argument that that is his height.) Would he say, "I'm not a six-foot man, I'm just a man! How dare you foist that label onto me when I don't identify with it?"

I very much doubt he would protest in those terms. But why not? What is the difference between that and calling him cis?

It's an obvious point, and trans people and allies have been painstakingly making it for years, but otherwise-sensible people have been curiously resistant to it. Somehow, it seems that certain things (being six feet tall, being Irish) are harmless adjectives, the use of which, assuming they are true, would cause no one to feel infringed upon, even where - as in the case of nationality - they might have a real connection to one's sense of personal identity. Other things, no less accurate, are regarded as "labels", the application of which is "foisting". For an adjective to be applied felicitously, it just has to be consistent with fact; a label, by contrast, also has to be something one "identifies with."

Trans people tend to use the word "cis" as an adjective, but many cis people hear it as a label - as a political act, not a neutral description. The reason, I suspect, is that this is also the way they hear the word "trans." Just as any trans person who opens their mouth is automatically called a "trans activist," so to mention that one is trans is to be parsed as making a kind of political point. That, I think, is why disavowal of "cis" is basically transphobic.

Still, all that said, the distinction between "adjective" and "label" is not a sharp one, any more than that between constantive and performative language generally. If I had time, and were not on a train to Kobe, I would spend a couple of hours maundering that, but for now I will refer you to my friend Mr Derrida.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
I've been baulked in my wish to keep up a daily blog since I came to Tokyo simply by lack of time - which is a better reason than some. I've had meetings (some just for pleasure, some academic) set up every day but one - and that was a cancellation - as well as which I've been doing some editorial work (i.e. correcting English) for Japanese academic friends. So, some things have had to give, and blogging was among the squeezable entities that made the ultimate sacrifice. I now have a few minutes to put that to rights, however, so here are some rather fragmentary memories and maunders that should at least get us to the end of last weekend.

I meant to mention last time that, two minutes' walk from my house, stands a Western clothing shop called "Guloucester", which is a welcome reminder of my own Gloucester Rd., albeit only in the matter of spelling, and only that to a certain extent...


Sentiment is a funny thing....

Sunday was my only truly free day, so I took the opportunity to visit the last day of the Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition, which had transferred to Bunkamura in Shibuya from the Victoria and Albert. It was packed, as it had apparently been every day: the popularity of Pooh in Japan hadn't quite been borne in on me before, although I gather from a couple of conversations I've had since I gather that many people believe it to be an invention of Disney. This exhibition would have set them straight, however. Although I could not photograph the MS pages and illustrations, I can at least include the Pooh-sticks bridge, complete with moving water effect:


I now know that in Japan, When Were Very Young and Now We are Six are translated as "Christopher Robin's Songs" and "Pooh Bear and Me." It's not unreasonable, I suppose, but it does change the timbre of those volumes somewhat. (Far less forgivable is turning The Wind in the Willows into "By the Fun River".)

The misspelling of "Owl" as "Wol" turns in Japanese into "Kufuro"/くふろ (instead of "Fukuro"/ふくろ). Cute.

After that I bumbled around Shibuya, looking at the cool kids and what they were buying. Among other things, I saw a rabbit café next to a cat café, which seems like a recipe for trouble down the line...


Culture note: Japanese people appear to find the idea of eating rabbits as bizarre as British people might eating, say, cats, although of course their diet includes many things from which the average Brit might shrink. I've known that for a while, but only yesterday did I learn that Japanese people (not all, I'm sure) find caterpillars as creepy and scary as Brits do spiders. I suspect most Brits - gardeners excepted - find caterpillars rather cute. On the other hand, spiders are less of a problem for them. (Admittedly I'm basing all this on the rather narrow basis of my personal acquaintance.)

Meanwhile, in Don Quixote (a pile-'em-high department store that's a great place for souvenir gifts), they are selling T-shirts to commemorate the end of the Heisei era and the coming of the Reiwa at the beginning of next month. Though not a monarchist, still less an imperialist, I'm curious to see how this is going to pan out, and I'll be watching the process with interest from my Odwara fastness on the day:


Later, I got chatting to Junko, my landlady, and we ended up going to eat yakitori together at one of her favourite local places. I'm sorry to say that I didn't photograph it, not wanting to stand out too much, but it was in any case quite simple fare, though delicious. The guilt of the meat was offset by the healthiness of using raw cabbage leaves to scoop up miso - a surprisingly moreish snack. Junko's almost total lack of English meant that the conversation was entirely in Japanese, and I'm happy to say that it went pretty well.

This is Not my Beautiful House

I’d like to be able to say that it was encountering this very very large “The Road to Japan” sign in the middle of Cardiff on Monday that inspired me to come back, but the truth is that I spotted some time ago a conveniently Japan-shaped gap between the end of teaching and the start of marking, and into that gap I have been contriving to slide for some time.

Anyway, one way or another, here I am for the next few weeks. As usual, I’ll be blogging my experiences, and although, this being my fifth time, my impressions no longer offer the new-mown rawness of those 2015 entries, I’ll be doing plenty of new things along the way, and and revisiting old ones with a hitherto-undreamt-of depth of wisdom and understanding. So far I have managed to lose only one contact lens.

I started last year's trip with a picture of the Hello Kitty shop in Haneda airport, so to balance things here's the Miffy shop in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport:


I don't say that one is a knock off of the other, but I do say that Miffy came first. Otherwise I have little to tell about the journey itself. I was initially seated next to a Japanese man, and spoke to him a little, but then a woman asked to swap seats so that she could be with her husband, and I naturally obliged. Her original seat turned out to be between another couple, so I swapped a second time, before finally settling down to watch Killing Eve, or rather the first five of eight episodes. I can see why people like it. The duel between detective and psychopathic nemesis has of course been done multiple times (revamped Sherlock/Moriarty of course, but also Morse with Hugo De Vries, Tomomi Masaoka and Shogo Makishima, etc.) but this is the first all-female iteration I've seen, and a very stylish one it is too. The story is based on a series of novels, so perhaps the stylishness is the contribution of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. As things stand, Fiona Shaw's character seems likely to be the Big Bad, to the extent that it will be a much more interesting twist if she isn't; perhaps I'll find out on the way back to the UK. (My only real gripe was the corrupt MI5 agent explaining that he'd gone to the dark side to fund cancer treatments that the NHS wouldn't pay for. I know this is made by BBC America, but really - Breaking Bad is not a good premise for a UK-set programme.)

The spring is a little late in Tokyo this year, which means that I was able to enjoy the last ofthe sakura on the Meguro river last night - although it was too dark for pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it. As a poor substitute, here I am outside my Airbnb, waiting for check-in time under a cherry tree, and thinking wistfully of transience.


I hope to overtake the sakura tide a bit later in my visit when I go north, but more on that at the time...

The Airbnb is good: I have a spacious room, it has everything I need, and although I'm apparently sharing the place with 10 or so other people I've barely seen any of them. Junko, the landlady, had a nice chat with me when I arrived, and altogether it's quiet and simpatico, as is its neighbourhood of Hatanodai (literally "flag stand"), which is the kind of place where you walk down the narrow shopping streets to the sound of glockenspiels played (quietly) on a public address system. An odd sensation to one raised in the West, but not unusual here it seems. The local Inari shrine is down an alley, but I'm glad it's there:


I gathered a bunch of zzzs overnight, and feel well on the way to triumphing over jetlag, but I will wait a little before hoisting the pennant of victory. Today I went to see my friend Tomoko at her home in Sagamihara, out in Kanagawa Prefecture. She and her husband gave me an amazing lunch including squid grilled by said husband at the table, tuna cheek, cabbage-wrapped sushi and the gizzards of various shellfish, among other delights. (What do you mean, shellfish don't have gizzards? Then what do you call these?)



Afterwards Tomoko and I wandered round the area, where she tested me by getting me to read the kanji on all the windows of the local businesses. That went fine until we became so animated trying to read what it said on the window of a cram school that the owner came out and told us to go away. Luckily it was not in his power to set us homework.

Locked in the Garage with Uncle Sam
A few days before she died, my mother asked me to go into the garage and see if I could find the portrait that her great uncle, Samuel Parkes Cadman (early radio preacher and even now the only member of my family to have a New York street named after them), had had made by John Singer Sargent. It wasn't the original, of course, but "Uncle Sam" had made copies for all his nieces and nephews, including my grandmother. I remember the portrait hanging in the house during my early childhood, before my mother - whose main memory of the sitter was being told to "Shush" when he visited Wrexham, because "Uncle Sam was praying" - mustered the courage to consign it to the garage.

Anyway, I had a bit of a rummage, but couldn't at that time find the portrait. Instead, I came up with some old bottles of fruit wine that I had made in 1981, just before going to Uni. They didn't look too appetising, but they brought back nostalgic memories of my winemaking days. (Who could forget the terrible accident with the marrow rum?)


Today, I went back into the garage and found the portrait quite easily. I now feel a bit guilty that I was so easily distracted by the wine, and failed to fulfil what was, if I had known it, virtually a dying wish. That said, she didn't know it either, and I'm still not convinced I'd want this on my wall.


Next to the portait was a suitcase full of her old Magnets from the 1930s (with a few from the preceding and succeeding decades). She always half-joked that this collection about Greyfriars and Billy Bunter would be our real inheritance, but I have my doubts. Still, they certainly offer an insight into the comics of what we must now, I suppose, admit to be yore.


Pillow Words for a Pillow Book
I was looking up the ancient anthology Manyoshu (万葉集 = collection of ten thousand leaves) just now, because it is apparently the source of the new era name, 令和, and I came across a Wiki entry for "makura kotoba" or "pillow words." Pillow words seem to be a bit like (Wiki's own comparison) standard Greek epithets such as "grey-eyed Athena" or (what seems to me a bit closer, since "grey-eyed Athena" still contains "Athena") Old English kennings such as "whale road" for "sea". Anyway, this bit intrigued me:

Some historical makura kotoba have developed into the usual words for their meaning in modern Japanese, replacing the terms they originally alluded to. For example, niwa tsu tori (庭つ鳥, bird of the garden) was in classical Japanese a makura kotoba for kake (鶏, chicken). In modern Japanese, niwatori has displaced the latter word outright and become the everyday word for "chicken" (dropping the case marker tsu along the way).

That gave me a "now it all makes sense!" moment, as "niwatori" had always struck me as slightly odd.

I feel there must be quite a few words in English where a poetic term has replaced the ordinary one, or at least because as common, but I'm having trouble coming up with them. "Robin" for "redbreast" by way of "robin redbreast" is one, I suppose, and you can trace a similar route for some rhyming slang: it only occurred to me the other day that "Use your loaf!" involved rhyming slang, for example. But surely there must be other/better examples?