Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hiroshima, non Amour

You know when you go to a music festival and an unknown band comes on, plays the set of their life and blows everyone away. Then next comes the more famous band who come on, and they're fine but there's no buzz, no shock of the new.

That's the situation that Hiroshima was in, following Matsue's performance. When I think back on my time there, I can't think of anything wrong with Hiroshima, but I still felt a bit deflated.

First on the agenda was to go to the A-bomb Dome, the Peace Park and the museum. The Dome is, like a lot of tourist attractions such as Stonehenge) a lot smaller than you think it would be. Meanwhile, the Peace Park is a lot noisier than you’d imagine from the name with the bell from the Children’s Peace Memorial and the melancholy tone of the Peace Bell ringing out.

The museum is a very powerful place, and there is one corridor where some testimonies from witnesses spoke about how their loved ones died. There were only four examples, which is just as well because I was already starting to well up after the second. If there’d been more, I’d have been a blubbering wreck by the end of the corridor.

I also went to the Itsukushima Shrine on an island near Hiroshima. It’s famous “floating” torii. I also went up for a walk in the mountains, which absolutely exhausted me and didn’t have very clear weather, so no great views when I got to the top.

On the way back down I was passed by a woman in a dress and wearing not-very-hiking-type shoes and I did wonder if she might be a suicide risk. But then I noticed that if she did want to kill herself, she was going the wrong way (ie, down) and she was taking photos. Now, the whole point of photos is so you can look at the afterwards, suggesting a life span longer than this afternoon. Suicide alert over.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Matsue: Find of the Year

When I decided to go to Matsue, the thing that swayed me in its favour was that it wasn't on Google Street View, which meant it was as close me exploring an undiscovered land as I am ever likely to get.

First impressions weren't great. The streets were mostly deserted (it was Sunday evening). But before long I noticed there were lots of people in costume for a festival in groups of two or three, and they all seemed to be going in the same direction. Since the streets were decidedly not about to host a festival, I supposed they were goping to rehearsals. Imagine my surprise when, at my hotel, they were gathered under my window and were shouting up. Not at me, obviously, but there was a lot of cheering and good natured laughter. This helped in overcoming the initial shock of identically-dressed locals who'd apparently followed the newcomer back to his hotel.

But soon, I started to appreciate Matsue's charms. First was a large lake, which hosted a couple of very nice sunsets while I was there. I loved walking along it's shores and the locals seem to like it too.

I went to a temple with some immaculately raked gravels areas, and was amused by the set of a child's footprints going from one path and then turning quickly back as their parent no doubt yelled at them.

It has some great restaurants, and the canals around the castle area are very pretty indeed.

Then, on the last evening, after a meal I went out looking for a bar. I saw a light down a street leading to some parking, and the word "pub salon". Well, this was the first time I'd seen the word pub since I'd left England, so I was sold. Inside, though, was a bar that had quite a lot of whiskey. I thought I'd try a few, and the staff were nice enough to entertain me and my bad Japanese, which I was grateful for. Especially since one of them looked not unlike Konishi Manami. This next image will have to do until I get something better sorted out.

Taken from the blog Looking Into You
 I'm kicking myself that I only stayed here for three nights.

Return to DenDen Town

One of the things I was keen to do on my return to Osaka was to take some more photos of DenDen Town. This time, I wanted to get over some of my camera shyness (that is, shy when taking photos rather than having them taken) and get more of the atmosphere of this place. I was also interested to see how an area had changed in the two years since I'd been there, considering it hadn't seemed to change in the twenty years before then.

First thing I saw, like a beacon guiding me home, was the Tsutenkaku Tower. Apart from that, the area seemed nicer and neater than before. There were no sellers of old VHS tapes on the side of the road, nor were there any sleeping tramps with crisps down his shirt. I did find a naughty cinema, though.

I kept walking and before long things returned to normal. The fading shop signs, the piped enka music and the room with lines of old men playing Shogi or Go. This time with extra people watching from outside. I took one photo and then noticed a man inside looking at me angrily, so I wandered off before taking a second.

Walking around meant constantly checking for cyclists whizzing past.

And at one point I passed a large covered area full of men with luggage. I though they must be waiting for a bus or something, but couldn't see any timetables or anything. Then it occurred to me that they were homeless. Hmm, I can't be the first person to note the similarities between the destitute and holiday-makers.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

In Osaka

Just a quick note to say I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. Osaka is nice, but my Japanese seems to be worse than it was last time. That's a bit discouraging. Oh well. Next stop, Matsue.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Currently watching: Going My Home

The new season starts here! Woo hoo!

After a few months of not there being much worth watching, I'm quite optimistic for the new batch of dramas and it looks like one won't let me down.

This series is about Tsuboi Ryota, a moderately successful employee (played by Abe Hiroshi) and he's in a moderately happy marriage. His daughter is acting a bit odd, and she insists she has an imaginary friend. He's a typical guy getting through life when his father collapses and goes into a coma. After this he has to go back and forth between work in the city and the country hospital. Thus we get to see him interact with his two families.

It great to see Abe Hiroshi in a less-alpha male role. In this opening episode, he never seems to be in charge of any conversation he's in. And the dialogue has a lightness of touch which is very enjoyable. The humour rises naturally from the situation, with no use of over-acting or physical comedy. There's a great running joke at the hospital where people think that Ryota's business suit is a mourning suit.

YOU is a joy as Abe's younger sister, and so is Yamaguchi Tomoko as his wife. I can't fault the casting at all and it's been great to see YOU, who's always been underused in films in the past, get a decent amount of screen time.

Even after the opening two-hour episode, there are very few clues about how the story will progress, which is fine. Some vague hints at a mythical creature who the ill father went hunting for. What does it all mean? I shall be watching with great interest.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Just watched: A Taxing Woman

In episode one of Tokkan, they mention a film and now that series is over, I thought I'd track it down and take a look.

Like Tokkan, this is a story about a woman who is a tax inspector. It follows her career over a year or so, as she is promoted. The film follows a few cases but is mostly concerned with the one at the beginning of the film. She is unable to close the case, so when fresh evidence comes to light later on, she picks it up again.

It won lots of awards on its release in 1987, and I can imagine how original it must have seemed back then. The opening sequence of short scenes setting up the tax evader Gondo's various scams is a great introduction to his world.

There's almost no moralising from the tax evaders. Mind you, how could there be since this was set in a time when the Japanese economy was booming, so there weren't as many hard-luck stories.

You can't really compare it to Tokkan, despite both being about tax evasion. Tokkan had so many explanations that it was almost like a public information film at times. A Taxing Woman lets the story flow, which I think is the main difference. The comedy is more understated, and the acting more naturalistic.

Mind you, I kept being distracted by the size of mobile phones in those days. They needed to be carried round in a bag! How times have changed.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Back to Japan

The flights are booked, the hotel rooms are reserved and the money's been ordered. I'm going back to Nihon, baby!

Perhaps not as excited as I was the first time, but that's to be expected. I'm doing the west, so I'm flying in to Osaka again, then doing Matsue then Hiroshima and then ending in Kyoto. I'm going to do Kyoto properly this time, since I spent most of last time walking in the countryside around it rather than inside it.

I'm keen to see Osaka again, and I chose Matsue because I've never heard of it: it's not even on street view on Google Maps. But a famous Irishman lived there, and there's a nice art gallery and castle nearby. And I also want to see the sea this time round and Matsue seems fairly close to some remote coastline. My big regret about Matsue is that I found a hotel with an all-you-can-drink bar, but it's so far from the city that it really isn't practical.

I'm still weighing up my options about what to see in Hiroshima. The Peace Park is an obvious choice, but I'm struggling for other options. I'm not bothered, though. I'm sure there's something to do in a city of over a million people. I'll find out when I get there.

Since I'm not going to Tokyo, picking up cheap second-hand DVD box sets may be more difficult, but I'll still be looking. There's a DVD of two unreleased episodes of Lost Time Life that I'm keen on getting. Oh, and I'll also be looking for a Kansai-ben/Japanese dictionary. This is important if I want to do subtitles for shows set in Osaka or Kyoto.

Mostly, though, I'll be enjoying the feeling of being somewhere else. I plan on doing some sketching, and a lot more sitting down than last time. I go on the 17th for two weeks. Mmmm, I can't wait.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Just finished: Tokkan

Well this highly enjoyable series ends with a bit of an odd ending. I'll be honest, as I was translating I was afraid that I was missing something very important, because the various bits of the story didn't seem to fit together.

In the final episode, the Tokkan faced disciplinary proceedings after the person he was investigating attempted suicide. As this story unfolds, there's something about a senile old woman owning the mortgage, an unborn child, something about whether or not a message was a suicide note. In the end, none of these seemed to matter, since the charges were dropped anyway. Maybe there was something to link them, but like I said, I could've missed it. I really need to start studying Japanese properly again.

But enough about me. The series was an enjoyable crime show, where the crimes were of a less deadly type than usual. Inoue Mao was great, and it was nice to see the development from muttering incompetent to someone who can at least raise their voice and look people in the eye when necessary.

And that's the main theme of the series: how she grows because as she leaves the safety of her desk and goes out to deal with real people. No one else seemed to change much, but that was okay since it wasn't their story.