March 25, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:27 am

A house Soseki Natsume lived in at the Meiji Mura museum (more about Meiji Mura tomorrow). So many little kids were obsessed with the plastic cat that we had to loiter and mill about until there was finally a ten second gap between families and Sam could take a picture. Soseki is one of my favorite Japanese writers. I Am a Cat and Botchan are wonderfully funny.

Soseki Natsume I Am a Cat:

“‘Since it’s quite impossible to obtain snails or frogs, however much we may desire them, let’s at least have moat-bells: what do you say?’ And without really giving the matter any thought at all, I answered ‘Yes, that would be fine.’
… he told the waiter to bring moat-bells for two. The waiter said, ‘Do you mean meat-balls, sir?’ but Waverhouse, assuming an ever more serious expression, corrected him with gravity. ‘No, not meat-balls: moat-bells.’
Well, I thought it sounded somewhat strange; but as Waverhouse was so calmly sure and is so great an authority on all things Occidental — remember it was then my firm belief that he was widely traveled — I too joined in and explained to the waiter, ‘Moat-bells, my good man; moat-bells!’
The waiter … looked thoughtful for a while and then said, ‘I’m terribly sorry, sir, but unfortunately we have no moat-bells. Though should you care for meat-balls we could serve you, sir, immediately.’
Waverhouse thereupon looked put out and said, ‘So, we’ve come all this long way for nothing. Couldn’t you really manage moat-bells? Please do see what can be done’; and he slipped a small tip to the waiter. The waiter said he would ask the cook and went off into the kitchen.
He must have had his mind dead set on moat-bells. The waiter re-emerged with apologies and the confession that, of late, the ingredients to moat-bells were in such short supply that one could not get them. … But when Waverhouse proceeded to ask him what ingredients the restaurant did use, the waiter just laughed and gave no answer.
Waverhouse then pressingly inquired if the key ingredient happened to be Tochian (who, as you know, is a haiku poet of the Nihon School); and d’you know, the waiter answered, ‘Yes, it is, sir, and that is precisely why none is available even in Yokohama.’
And then, as soon as we were out in the street, he said, ‘You see, we’ve done well. That ploy about the moat-bells was really rather good, wasn’t it?; and he looked as pleased as Punch. I let it be known that I was lost in admiration, and so we parted. However, since it then was well past the lunch-hour, I was nearly starving.”

March 24, 2012

Saturday night sukiyaki

Filed under: Japan — theresaurus @ 12:59 pm

From Jane and Michael Stern’s American Gourmet:

“Probably the most unlikely number one hit song in 1960s America was ‘Sukiyaki’ by Kyu Sakamoto. Originally a Japanese tune titled ‘Ue O Meite Aruko’ (I Look Up When I Walk), it was recorded as an instrumental in England by jazz man Kenny Ball. But because his record company figured nobody could pronounce the title, they renamed it with the single Japanese word everybody did know: sukiyaki.¬†Newsweek¬†commented that this would be like releasing ‘Moon River’ in Japan with the title ‘Beef Stew,’ but the song hit number ten on the UK chart in January 1963; and when, as a lark, American disk jockey Rick Osbourne of KORD in Pasco, Washington, tracked down Kyu Sakamoto’s original vocal version and played it on the air, an amazing thing happened: His audience loved it. Audiences all across America loved it! ‘Sukiyaki,’ sung entirely in Japanese became the first foreign language song to hit number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (not counting 1958’s one-word hit, ‘Tequila’). It stayed number one for three weeks in June. This was only months before the opening of the World’s Fair in New York, at which tourists could enjoy the pleasure of real sukiyaki eaten Japanese-style, sitting cross-legged on straw mats at low tables.”

March 23, 2012

A favorite street

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 2:09 pm

A rather odd building with abandoned businesses on the first floor, a restaurant with a faded menu sign board and a coffee shop called UFO that maybe had a special lunch set for aliens, too bad I got here too late to take advantage. There are many barber shops in these old neighborhoods run by old men who sit gossiping with other old men or watching TV. On the windows of the tiny grocery store down the street from my apartment you can still make out faint Disney character stickers, same as some of the barber shops. I guess Minnie and Mickey mouse were very popular in the 70s and 80s. There are also many decrepit apartment buildings in this neighborhood, so run-down that you at first assume nobody lives there until you walk past in the evening and see lights. I’d be nervous living in a practically deserted building — what if you heard sounds in the middle of the night from apartments you know are empty? Ghosts on their way to the UFO coffee shop for breakfast service and then a shave and a haircut …


March 19, 2012

Rainy spring day in Nakatsugawa

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 10:55 am

The view from the hill where Sam’s father’s home is, the cemetery. A nice view of the mountains, surrounded by farms.

March 14, 2012

National Potato Chip Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:44 pm

M.F.K. Fisher, Last House:

“Most of our vices are relatively harmless to other people, two-or four-legged — that is, I doubt that I taint more than my own liver when I happily, indeed voluptuously, tweak open a cellophane packet of salt-encrusted, preservatives-loaded, additives-flavored, crispy-crunchy, and machine-made potato chips. (They used to be called Saratoga chips, I think.) It seems logical, or at least convenient in a somewhat jesuitical way that I have earned this latter-day respite from my early dedication to the pursuit of The Perfect. I have tasted the best, I argue, and therefore am justified in solacing my last years with no matter how unreasonable facsimiles, since the best is unattainable. It is unattainable here and now, anyway. Occasionally, and always alone, I put some substitute for the Perfect Potato Chip in a little wooden bowl (this is all somewhat dubious and fetishistic from a Freudian or perhaps Jungian or even est-ian point of view) and eat it before lunch. (Never dinner or supper.) The ersatz potato chips are not good.”

March 12, 2012

On the question of apparel

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 7:33 am

Last week for a few days it was so warm you could practically go out in a T-shirt. Last night and this morning it snowed. Sam had already made the switch from winter coat to a new lightweight spring jacket and got pretty cold on the weekend. We ended up outside with the car most of Sunday morning and everyone spent the rest of the day chilled and sneezing.

We went back to Sam’s hometown, stopping in Toki city where his best friend’s Nissan dealer is to sign the papers trading in his Fairlady Z for a new car next month. I like hanging around the dealer because I can look at fashion magazines like With and More and get a head’s up on how out of fashion I’m going to be in the coming season. This spring things look extremely conventional. No hippie tunics or hooker high heels or knee socks with sandals. The friend always slips me more than one free gift: this visit’s haul was a case of canned fruit drinks, six packs of gum, and two handkerchiefs with hearts and bears on them leftover from Valentine’s Day. I warned Sam that Fairlady is going to be very angry with him, she’ll feel rejected, it’s like you’re divorcing her. Indeed, the next morning she refused to start. Sam thought it was the battery and tried to jump start the engine with the neighbor’s little mini car. That didn’t work so he tried with the neighbor’s other, larger car. Nothing. Mr. Nissan finally came over and Lady needs to go into the shop. We had to borrow the neighbor’s car to get home. “Vengeance is mine!” quothe the Fairlady.

Sam dithered over what color jacket to order. Khaki, navy blue, or orange. I voted for navy blue. Any color as long as it’s dark is my motto. No, it’s spring and he wanted something lighter, dark colors are fine for people like you. Khaki? Wouldn’t he look like a sales guy in an electronic store or something? All he’d need was a name tag: Hi! My name’s SAM, how may I help you? Orange it is. The jacket came and since it’s an American company and apparently nobody there wants to admit needing an XL or XXL, they just make everything larger. He had to send back his usual medium size for a small. Last chance to reconsider the orange. More dithering. Orange it is.

Sam’s been wearing his orange jacket and is obsessed with orange, suddenly orange is everywhere. Look, the jacket is the same color as the elevator, when he stands in front of it he blends in — where’s Sam? Look, the jacket is the same color as the paint used for median strips on the street. Look, the jacket is the same color as these traffic cones. Look, the jacket is the same color as this bag of oranges. He thinks he looks like one of those guys who directs airplanes for take-off on the run-way. It never ends. I wish I would’ve insisted on navy blue.

Osamu Dazai, On the Question of Apparel:

“Once a friend of mine looked at me seriously and said, You know, if George Bernard Shaw had been born in Japan, he would not have made it as a writer. Equally serious myself, I pondered the extent of literary realism in Japan and then replied — Yes, you’re right. Our approach to writing is quite different here. I was going to mention several more ideas when the friend laughed and said — No, that’s not what I mean. Isn’t Shaw seven feet tall? A writer like that couldn’t manage in Japan. He was quite offhand and took me in utterly. I couldn’t really laugh off his innocent joke, either. Indeed, there was something quite chilling about it. If I had been just a foot taller … ! That was too close for comfort.

“While I’m on the subject, I should mention that I haven’t worn foreign clothes in the seven or eight years since I quit school. It’s not that I dislike them, far from it. Since they’re light and convenient, I’m always yearning for such clothes … . Since I’m five foot six inches tall, a suit ready-made in Japan wouldn’t fit. And to have a tailor make one would surely cost more that a hundred yen, with the shoes, shirt, and other required accessories. I’m stingy about my needs; I’d rather hurl myself from a cliff into the raging sea than throw away over a hundred yen on a suit of clothes. … For now, I have no choice but to go around in the Japanese clothes I have on hand. … Anyway I’m comfortable in the poorest kimono, the sort a student might wear, and I would gladly spend the rest of my life living like a student. When I have a meeting scheduled for the next day, I fold my patterned kimono and place it under my mattress for the night. I feel somewhat edgy, as though I were about to take the college entrance exam, but a least the kimono will appear to be pressed. It’s fine garment, one for special occasions. As autumn deepens and I can begin going proudly about in this kimono, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s the time between seasons that’s really troublesome — especially between summer and autumn.

“When I walk about, the hem of the silk kimono rustles pleasantly. Unfortunately, it always rains if I go out in that garment, a warning perhaps from my dead father-in-law who once owned it. I’ve encountered veritable floods in that kimono, once in southern Izu and again in Fuji-Yoshida. … The next time I hear of even a rumor about a drought, I’ll put on the kimono and set out for the affected area. I’ll take a stroll, and the rain will come down in torrents — an unexpected service from someone so generally incompetent.”

March 6, 2012

Plums and moon (reposted from last year because they’re so pretty)

Filed under: photo — theresaurus @ 10:06 am

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