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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Ladies First
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steepholm
Since when was Shinzo Abe's wife the "First Lady" of Japan?

I first saw this usage on the internet a few months ago, and dismissed it as the parochialism of an American reporter, transferring language appropriate to the United States to a context where it didn't fit - like the woman interviewing Nelson Mandela who asked him to comment on an issue "as an African American." (He was too polite to point out her error.) But then I saw it again, and again - and recently I even heard it from a Japanese friend, who confirmed that it was indeed a thing in Japan - even if, as in America, it's a courtesy title rather than a constitutional one.

But, while it makes a kind of sense in the States, where the President is also the head of state, surely it makes no sense in a monarchy? If Akie Abe is the First Lady of Japan, what number lady is Empress Masako?

I was about to write that if Boris Johnson tried to call Carrie Symonds the First Lady a couple of Beefeaters would be round to No. 10 sharpish to let him feel the business end of a pike - but I see that some newspapers have indeed started referring to her, albeit flippantly, as the "First Girlfriend". Will that take root?

I don't know why this even bothers me, since I'm not a royalist, but a) I do find the confusion of presidential and monarchical systems irritating, and b) I would be sorry to think that the whole First Lady meme was spreading, since it was always pretty irredeemably sexist.

I'm Glad 10

An Easy Mistake?
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steepholm
A couple of days ago I passed a shop window advertising "Gender Reveal Fireworks" - a first for me.

For a minute I thought, Wow, haven't we come a long way? When I transitioned, coming out was a scary, nerve-wracking thing, fraught with fears of rejection, anger and hurt. Now, people can invite their friends to celebrate their coming out with a fabulous fireworks party in which they reveal their gender (in as many colours as it takes), proud of themselves and their truth, and confident in the support of those who love them.

Then I remembered I wasn't living in a David Levithan novel. Of course, the fireworks' real purpose was to lock yet-unborn children into a rigid, cisnormative gender binary.

Perhaps they could still be used for the first thing after all, though?

I Didn’t Hear Me Arrive
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steepholm
On a friend’s FB today I had occasion to quote from one of my favourite C. S. Lewis essays, “The Inner Ring”:

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.


I read that when I was far too young to be able to judge whether or not it was true, though the idea was always appealing. But I think there’s quite a lot in it, perhaps especially in the professions that Lewis had as author and a scholar, which happen also to be mine.

You plough your own furrow, doing your own thing, because it’s interesting rather than because you think it will win you fame and/or fortune, then gradually you discover that a modicum of the first at least has indeed come your way. In the last week I’ve had several people come up to me (in person or online) in a strangely star-struck manner that doesn’t sort at all with my self-image or even with my image of my image, as it were. Admittedly I was one of the keynotes in Valencia, so it’s not surprising people would say nice things there, but I was still taken aback to have a Polish scholar tell me how excited her students would be to hear that she’d met me. I mean, wtf? I even seriously wondered whether she might be thinking of a different person, since there was someone with the same name at Cardiff before me and I occasionally get things that were obviously meant for her - but no.

Then there was the person at the children’s book publisher, whom I had to contact to request a review copy, who wrote back telling me how much she had enjoyed Four British Fantasists. How did she even know that was by me, since I wrote it under a different name?

Also, literally while I was writing this post, an email dropped into my inbox informing me that I’d been promoted to Reader.

That, along with the lavishly complimentary reader’s report I just got on my “Japan Reads the Cotswolds” article (which should, all being well, be out in Children’s Literature next year), have gone some way to swell my head like Keats’s autumnal gourd, albeit mine probably contains far less pith.

My Duty All Ended
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steepholm
"Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended..."

I see that I quoted from "Felix Randal" here the day after my mother died. Tomorrow it will be five months since her funeral, and it's another line - the first, in fact - that keeps going through my head.

The weather is to blame. It's hot at the moment, and the habitual thought, "I hope Mum's managing to keep cool" keeps getting triggered - and then I remember that it's no longer really a concern. And I feel sad, with a side salad of relief because I don't need to worry about her, drizzled of course with a vinaigrette of guilt.

When I was a teenager and going through the Gerard Manley Hopkins phase that I guess most teenagers have, my favourite lines from this poem were these:

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!


I loved the sudden time shift, the Anglo-Saxon phrasing and alliteration, the unexpectedness of "sandal". That said, I didn't identify with Felix, because death was never far from my forethoughts, nor did I really understand the priest's perspective: why was his first thought "My duty all ended", as if Felix had been first and foremost a burden to him? It seemed a tad uncharitable. Now, though, I appreciate the insight all the more.

Incidentally, Isabella Bird reports that, while staying in Nikkou, she visited a classroom where the children recited the following verse - in part no doubt for its pious Buddhism, but also because (like the quick brown fox jumping the lazy dog) it contains the entire Japanese syllabry, or 五十音:

Colour and perfume vanish away,
What can be lasting in this world?
To-day disappears in the abyss of nothingness;
It is but the passing image of a dream, and causes only a slight trouble.


Apologies if I've earwormed you with that catchy ditty, but I'd love to see the Japanese original.

Englishwomen Abroad
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steepholm
I've been in Valencia for a few days attending a conference, most of which was in Spanish and thus incomprehensible to me, but everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, and somehow that didn't matter too much. Why was I there at all, you ask, since I couldn't understand the proceedings? Why, because I had been invited. My keynote went well, thank you very much.

While in Valencia I read Isabella Bird's book about travelling in Japan in the 1870s, and found it very interesting, as an outsider's account of a country in transition from Edo culture to Westernisation. It's full of quotable titbits, but I shall refrain, at least for now. One interesting factoid, though: did you know that the only currency accepted in Japan apart from the yen at that time was the Mexican dollar?

Bird - who already had experience of adventuring in Hawaii and the Rockies before this - was in her mid-forties when she decided to travel the length of Japan (well, from Tokyo to Hokkaido), and she certainly knew her own mind. She isn't afraid of criticising the country: the flea-infested tatami, the food, the abominable roads, etc. On the other hand, this lends her compliments more force, so that when she praises the kindness and courtesy of the Japanese, their immaculate roads and fields, the beauty of the landscape, and so on, we can be confident she means it. Her relationship with her young interpreter, Ito, is also fascinating, if glimpsed only briefly in odd exchanges.

Of course, it turns out that the book has been made into a manga - [不思議の国のバード] (Bird in Wonderland). The Japanese like to look at people looking at them, and of course I like looking at the Japanese doing that, too, especially when refracted through a British children's classic. The allusion to Alice (recalling to me D. C. Angus's The Eastern Wonderland: or Pictures of Japanese Life, which was published at almost the same time as Bird's book, in the early 1880s), only adds to the allure.

Bird in the manga is much younger looking than the real woman, but otherwise it's a fairly faithful adaptation, from what I've seen, but that's only on the basis of a few pages.

How did they handle the fact that Bird, who did not speak Japanese, must speak Japanese in the manga to be understood by its readers? Why, like this:

bird japanese

This is actually quite an accurate representation of my arrival in Valencia.

Bubble Hubble
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steepholm
When I lived in York in the 1980s it was already very much a tourist city, especially in summer, and perhaps the most tourist-thronged street was The Shambles, with its picturesquely overhanging gables that (so I was always told) had shaded the meat in hot weather in the days before refrigeration. For The Shambles was traditionally a street of butchers, as the name implies, although by my day there were only one or two.

I've no idea whether The Shambles was a direct influence on J. K. Rowling when she created Diagon Alley (have you?), but it's probably the most famous street of the type that she clearly had in mind, if I can put it thus circumspectly. York, however, nowhere appears in the Harry Potter books, and has not, as far as I know, ever been mentioned as an inspiration.

So, with the recent Cotswold project in mind, it's interesting to see just how complete the Potterification of The Shambles has been. There are now no butchers at all, but you can see...

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...The Potions Cauldron...

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The Shop That Must Not Be Named...

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...The Boy Wizard...

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...The World of Wizardry...

... and several other shops that have some kind of Pottery merchandise. As in the Cotswolds, the Mobius loop has closed: the original has become the copy, and vice versa. When Haruka sent a picture to her sister, she replied by asking whether it was a film set.

Who, after all, is to say that it isn't?

Bird and Butler
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steepholm
As long as I’m on this train, I’ll just mention that, when I was talking with Chiho, my friend from Kagoshima, the other day, she mentioned the Victorian traveller Isabella Bird, as a Westerner who had written a book on Japan in that era (I’ve an amateur interest in such people, being in a small way one of their successors). Naturally I looked her up on Wikipedia, and was surprised to find, almost in the first line of her substantial entry, a reference to my great-great-aunt, Fanny Jane Butler. When Fanny founded her hospital in Srinagar, Bird provided the money.

It was just one incident in an extremely eventful life that took Bird to adventures in not only Japan but China, Australia, Hawaii and the Rocky Mountains, among other places, but perhaps it was the most influential. One-eyed Jim Nugent, the charismatic adventurer/poet with whom Bird spent such an invigorating time in the 1870s has long since been dust: coyote and cougar stamp o’er his head. The hospital survives to this day.

Senior Moments
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steepholm
As I write this, I’m on a crowded train “rushing” home from York to Bristol. I’ve been staying with Haruka at the house of my old PhD supervisor and his wife, and a nice time we had too. (Haruka has gone off in a different direction, to London, so for now I’m on my own.)

It’s strange being in a place where I spent so much happy time in what must now be counted as the moderately distant past, and that temporal discombobulation showed itself in a dream I had last night. There, I was asked, in some kind of social situation, how old I was. “Twenty-six,” I replied automatically. Even in my dream this sounded a little odd, so my dream-self corrected it: “I mean, thirty-six.”

Then I awoke, and realised the truth - that I was in fact forty-six - or rather (as I became a little less bleary) fifty-six. That was my final bid for the moment, but a very salutary wakening it had been. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that, when I was a York habitue, I really was in my mid-twenties?

My supervisor, meanwhile, who retired a few years ago, was embarrassed two nights ago because he unthinkingly cut the boil-in-the-bag fish he was making for supper out of its bag and put it into the oven on a baking tray. The truth is that it tasted perfectly fine, but he dwelt on his error, until I told him:

“It’s not a senior moment; it’s an emeritus moment.”

The conceit pleased him.
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Severn Wonders
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steepholm
Haruka stayed again last weekend, which offered the opportunity to visit one or two new places. One was in Cardiff, a city I've worked in for four years now but still not thoroughly explored. In particular, I'd never been down to the bay area, so we made that good on Friday afternoon, and very pretty it was. The most intriguing discovery was Ianto's Shrine - a spontaneous outpouring of grief for a fairly minor character from a Doctor Who spin-off that last aired in 2011, who died a full decade ago but whose shrine is still relatively thriving, though some of the notes are a little blurry - presumably from the fresh salt tears of grieving fans:

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From a shrine on the Severn's western shore to a temple on the east: Sunday saw us visiting Berkeley in Gloucestershire, from where (as the tour guide in the castle reminded us) everything named Berkeley ultimately derives, from London squares to Californian campuses. I'd visited the castle several times before, and very interesting it is too, not least as the site of Edward II's murder (with or without poker). But literally next door is Edward Jenner's house, and somehow I'd never actually paid my dues to go into the Jenner museum. I'm glad we did this time, though, because it gave me the chance to visit a place that had been on my list for many years - namely, the Temple of Vaccinia, so called by Jenner himself after his development of smallpox inoculation. Before becoming a temple it had been his summer house, and even now it is basically just a hut at the bottom of his garden, decorated in an archly rustic way to fit the fashion of the time. From this Temple he would inoculate the villagers of Berkeley free of charge.

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Inside the house there is a portrait (and the preserved horns) of Blossom, the cow whose poxy udders began it all, and ultimately saved the lives of millions. We paid due reverence to her memory.
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Regression towards the Meanie
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steepholm
I am hauling this out of the Facebook oubliette so that I can leave it here with the appropriate tag - and of course for those who don't read my FB.

I've always felt a bit sorry for my first cousin (albeit 4 times removed) Louisa, being married to Francis Galton: having the founder of eugenics as your husband can't have been easy. But this little experiment seems especially hard to take...

galton beauty map

I don't say that Francis Galton is the most sinister of the husbands the women of my family married in the nineteenth century - that honour must surely go to Peter Augustus Russell de Linnoy La Fargue - but this is how I now picture the celebrated statistician:

galtondistracted

Palatable Truths
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steepholm
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?
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The Three Unrelated Topics of Britain
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steepholm
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
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steepholm
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...

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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...
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A List in Wonderland
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steepholm
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
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steepholm
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:

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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.
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“The Gashleycrumb Resignies”
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steepholm
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
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steepholm
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 "Your 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 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
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steepholm
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!"

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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.

Tadaima
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steepholm
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.

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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.

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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.'"

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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
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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:

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

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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:

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