Jan 31, 2009

A Snowy Night

Saturday night. Snowstorm. Having a New Year party with friends. Wanted to walk home, but already cold and wet!

Art classes

Twice a month on Saturday morning, I go to art class. The teacher does not actually teach me, but does critic when I ask him to and he discusses technical aspects of pictures with me. He is very encouraging, and attending the two hour classes stimulates my desire to draw. I usually do much more work at home during the week immediately following a class than during other times. In the picture below - taken last summer - I was putting the finishing touches on a pen-and-ink drawing of an outdoor Noh stage.

The completed picture is shown below, but please remember that the pictures here do not properly represent the fine lines in the drawing. I use a German drafting pen that makes line that are 0.3 mm in width. The lines in this picture are just sort of lumped together. Also due to the lighting the picture is not black and white as it should be. Actually there is a little gray in the picture as I used graphite to indicate some of the shadows.

Jan 26, 2009

Stele in Mizunomori Koen

Mizunomori Koen is a park that is about half way between my apartment and Ian's house. Mizu means water in Japanese, mori is forest, no is a possessive, and koen is park. So, the name means something like the 'Forest's-water Park'. Previously I posted a picture of someone standing in the mizu in this park fishing. At present the mizu is a resting place for numerous geese and ducks. Ian and I are now walking through the park on our Sunday outings. It is much more pleasant than just following the road.

The following picture shows a row of stele near the main entrance to the park. The 11 or 12 stones are lined up and each contains an engraving naming a Shinto god or some other words. I could not read them all, partly because some of them were old and very worn and partly because I did not know the kanji on some of the others.

This is a closer view of the largest stele. There are two kanji carved into it - mizu and kami, which means god. The white things at the base are strips of folded paper that are a standard part of Shinto ceremonies, so we know that someone has recently held some sort of devotional activity here.

This shows the end of the line of steles - the point farthest away in the first picture. The last thing in the line is a small (maybe a foot (30 cm) high) ceramic house. These are seen all over in small personal shrines associated with a specific building, or structure. They symbolically provide a place for the god to live and to be worshiped.

Jan 25, 2009

Japanese trees

The American news on the internet had an article about how, because of global warming, the old trees are dying all across the US. This made me think about trees, which in turn reminded me that I had taken a picture of a typical Japanese city tree, but had forgotten to post it here.

This picture, taken only a few days ago, is on the main road only a couple of hundred meters from my building.

Periodically the city has people come around and trim the trees. I think they do it once during the summer and then again in the fall after all the leaves have gone. The result, as you can see, is a very strange but in some ways beautiful shape. Each of the main branches ends in a knob with very small limbs coming out of the bump. Also the top of the trunk in cut so it too ends in a knob. In the summer, when covered with leaves, these trees have a very distinctive shape.

One point about these fantastic-looking trees is that they make good subjects for drawings. I have done a number of pictures with this sort of tree as the focus, and I am sure that I will do many more in the future. In fact I have encouraged by some people to do a set of postcards illustrating different sorts of trees but I have not had the time so far.

Jan 22, 2009

Rabbit huts

Not too long ago, there was a lot of news about Japanese homes, calling them rabbit huts and the like. I took this picture during one of my walks. You can judge for yourself it the news reports were accurate or not.

Notice that there is a mixture of independent homes and small apartment buildings. Most of my students live in these small apartments. Often they are no more than one or two small rooms plus a bath and a toilet. Most have a balcony for drying the laundry.

Jan 20, 2009

Henro preparations

I am finally getting serious about preparations for the pilgrimage. It is now less than a month until we leave for Shikoku.

My walking has decreased a bit since I was sick but I am gradually getting it back up to an appropriate level. The final weeks of the school year and the accompanying extra work - writing syllabuses for next year, giving and grading tests, determining final grades for each student - is taking a lot of time. Also I am now wearing my new shoes all the time. They are from Mizuno and they are designed to correct your posture while walking. This means that I am carrying my body differently, which in turn means I am using different muscles that previously. The salesman said that wearing the shoes is like riding a bicycle, at least in terms of the body parts that are exercised.

I collect the majority of the things that I will carry with me on the walk and weighed them. To my surprise, my estimate of four kilograms for it was high. It only weighed 3.5 kilograms. This means that when I start the contents of my pack will be right around 4 kilograms, not the 5 that I expected.

Jan 18, 2009

Walking between houses

As usual on Sunday Ian walked down the hill to my house, and then together we walked up the hill to his house. After a coffee break, I walk back to my house alone.

Today we tried a much more pleasant route than we have used in the past. For the first five kilometers of the walk, we previously walk along a road that paralleled a river. Last week I realized that there is a path on the other side of the river, so today we walk it. From the picture you can see that the houses are still visible but not very near and there is almost no noise from the cars on the road. Also there are a great many large birds in feeding in the river. The path still had some snow and the river, on the left below the level of the path and the houses.

At one point the path came quite close to the houses and we discovered a strange construction. Someone had driven stakes into the ground so that about have the width of the river bed formed a bank. Access was by a ladder and there were three or four low platforms to sit on. Ian and I stopped and talked about it - finally decided that it must be a fishing spot, but we had no idea what the purpose of the wooden construction just to the left of the ladder might be. On my way back, I discovered that we were correct about the fishing. There was someone actually sitting there, probably freezing since the temperature was about 0 degrees Celsius. I still do not know what the wooden construction is for, but it is help up by metal pipes.
A little further on toward Ian's, there is a torii, a structure with two vertical columns and two horizontal bars. Torii are normally found in front of Shinto shrines but there does not seem to be a shrine anywhere near this torii. It just sits in the middle of a field with farm land all around it. The old road from the north into Sendai passed along here and over the low spot in the hills in the background, so maybe there used to be a shrine here. The torii is made of concrete and appears to be quite old. I guess for the moment I will have to leave this as a mystery.

Jan 14, 2009

My latest drawing

This postcard sized brown ink drawing was done from a photo of the Swiss Alps that my art teacher took during a recent trip.

I am also working on two other pictures. One is a large picture of the ropes on a sailing ship that I boarded in Yokohama last year. I am using a very fine tipped pen and will do some of the background and the shadows in graphite after I finish the inking. I will post a picture of my progress on it soon. The other is a picture of the waves in the open sea. I am using very fine tipped colored pens. The variety of colors is very limited but that just becomes a challenge.

Yesterday a watched an art program on TV. The highlighted artist used brushes and black ink, which he diluted to get various shades. I liked it very much an think that I will experiment with the method in the near future. Probably in my art class where I can get help and suggestions from my teacher.

Jan 12, 2009

NFL football

Yesterday I saw two of the NFL playoff games, and watched them live in English on the sub-channel. They started early in the morning so they did not interfere much with my day.

NFL football is on cable TV and NHK quite often, but usually the games have been edited so that the timeouts have been removed and they last from two to three hours. Since yesterday's games were live, they went on for what seemed like forever, all of the timeouts were broadcast. After watching a lot of soccer and rugby, both of which offer more or less continuous play, the amount of non-playing time during the game was stunning.

What was really interesting was how the two stations handled the timeouts. During the first game, the station ran one ad over and over again and then filled the remaining time with NFL highlights, running the same short tape over and over again. The ad was for a website where you can buy NFL goods. By the time the game was over, this was driving me crazy.

The other station spent more money and had two Japanese men talking. One was an announcer and the other a former player in the Japanese American football league, quite knowledgeable, too. The only problem was that the voices were not switched on so you had to change the audio setting if you wanted to hear. On the English channel, they played the same pop song over and over again and showed highlight films. At least the films were different all the time.

I hope that I can watch the edited versions for the rest of this season.

Jan 8, 2009


Haibun is a Japanese literary form consisting of prose interspaced with haiku. It is the form that Basho used for his famous collection of haiku about his trip around northern Japan. In English, haibun is much less strict in form. In its loosest form, it is simply alternating sections of long connected prose and shorter poetic language which expounds or expands on the same subject as the prose. Many haibun writers use short fractured sentences and highly emotional language in the longer prose sections. However, others write these in a more a traditional style. Also the short section can be any sort of poetic form, including simple short phrases.

David, my Australian poet friend, suggested that I use this form during the Henro Pilgrimage. He thought the lack of rules and the resulting flexibility might make it very adaptable to whatever I find as I travel through both physical and mental space. Additionally, it is very suitable as part of a threesome (prose, poetry, and drawing), each expressing a different aspect of the subject. The following is a first attempt using a fib and based on looking out of the teachers' room at Miyagi Gakuen University this morning and seeing a fire in the foothills 10 kilometers away. The column of smoke is visible in the center of the picture.

The steel gray sky, with a hint of snow, merges with the winter-bared mountains, causing burning emotions as cold as the air. A glaze of emptiness - both Buddhist and emotional - settles over the world. A shaft of smoke rising out of the purple foothills connects the fire on the ground with the unseen, but blazing, sun in the sky. The pure white smoke a symbol of the fire's purification - the ultimate interconnectedness and emptiness of all.

the hills,
sky above:
white smoke linking them;
each as empty as the others

Jan 6, 2009

Previous two test entries

The previous two entries were tests in which I sent pictures of different sizes and texts from my cell phone. Typing is very inconvenient on a Japanese cell phone because they do not have keyboards, only number pads. So I have to press the same button as many as four times (for the letters s and z) to get the letters. Also punctuation is all on the same button so you have to repeatedly press the button to get ( or ), for example.

I should point out again that the inputting process is quite easy for Japanese. As you type in the kana (Japanese syllables) the words that you have previously used with those sounds appear with the last used first and are easily selected.

Picture Size (test)

Check of how this size looks.

A side street (test)

Side streets typically contain numerous small homes with almost no space between and parking inside the first floor.

Jan 2, 2009

New Years Eve

Starting at about 7 p.m. we had a party at our apartment. Ian and his family plus the family of a Bolivian woman that we know came so we had nine people. There was supposed to be one more family but they had to cancel because a relative showed up more or less unexpectedly.

After eating a wonderful meal prepared by Masayo, Ian's family, Masayo and I got dressed in warm clothes and walked to the near by Jodo Shinshu temple. The others left to go to largest shrine in Nagoya. The entrance was decorated with bamboo sections that had candles inside. It was very pretty but too dark to take a picture. Once on the temple grounds, we looked at the garden (see picture below) and had a cup of sake as we watched the priests ring the large bell that stands in a tower in the yard. On New Years, temples ring the bell 108 times to represent the 108 problems that afflict mankind. These problems as said to disappear with the sound.The main building was lit and quite pretty. Inside the lighted windows on the bottom right of the next picture we saw a group of people in formal kimonos filing up to the main hall for the formal prays. They were wearing kimonos that looked exactly like the kimonos worn by Shinto priests, except they were a different color. Buddhism and Shinto sometimes blend together so that they are difficult to separate.Last year we left at this point. Ian and I were getting ready to leave when we realized that the rest of our group had disappeared. After looking around, we discovered that their shoes were in the entrance to the temple building. We went in and found that it was possible to enter the main hall. Ian and I went in and offered a pray (and some money) at the altar. The place was much more elaborate than I expected. I wish that it had been appropriate to take a picture. As we were putting on our shoes to leave, a priestess came out and said that prays would be over in an hour or so and that we were more than welcome to come back and join the party that they were going to have. We declined because we were on our way to the shrine and by the time we left there it would be very late - we still had to clean up from the party.

At the shrine we stood in line to go up to the front of the main building and offer the traditional prayers and a gift of money. After we mounted the steps, made the monetary gift (actually the equivalent of a few cents), rang the bell to announce our presence to the god, and prayed, we moved of to the right where we were given a drink of sake and then some mochi (gooey rice that is pounded into a solid mass). I had mine with bean paste; the others had it in a soup.
We then walked over to the left of the above picture and had got our fortunes for the coming year. I did two different kinds: one was good -kichi- and the other was the very best -daikichi. It was interesting that both suggested that I should travel during the coming year. It was very cold, snowing a little, so they had fires burning in metal baskets on stands (see below).
On the way home, Ian and I stopped at the shrine for the local river god. We went through the same procedure: monetary offering, bow, ring the bell, clap our hands, pray, bow again, and leave. There was no lighting so the atmosphere was very pleasing. The picture below shows this little shrine as it looks in the daylight.
After we arrived home, we all had bowls of soup containing soba (buckwheat noodles) and then Ian and his family left for home. Then I washed the dishes and Masayo cleaned up everything else. I fell happily in bed about 3:30.