Nov 30, 2010

Near my home 14

In this picture of the bridge that carries the road to Izumi Chuo, the most built up area and the last stop on the subway, you can see the narrow paved path along the riverside. It is a very pleasant walk, but on this day I was headed to my art class so I could not go in that direction.After going under the bridge, you can see a bit of it in the top left of the next picture, you arrive at the south end of the soccer stadium, which is supposedly world class for its size (about 20,000 max).
To get to my art class, I have to climb the stairs up to the main road, and to get to the stairs I have to pass the service area of the stadium. It is interesting because you can see all the way into the pitch, getting a good idea of the current state of the grass.
After climbing a flight of stairs you arrive on the waiting area outside the east entrance to the stadium. The road and its sidewalk run along beside and below this area. As I took this picture a police officer on a bicycle passed. He is the one with the white stripes on a blue uniform. There is a large police station just a couple of hundred meters up the road.

Nov 29, 2010

Near my home 13

After you cross the new bridge there are two ways to go. I went up the embankment, but I could have gone along the edge of the water on a narrow concrete path, which does not show in this picture. Once I was on the road along the top of the levee, I looking left I could see a large area containing multiple tennis courts. Apparently they are public and people and clubs can sign up somewhere to use them.
A little further on the tennis courts end but there is a baseball field. Again it seems to be public and as will all public things in Japan you have to sign up but I do not know the details.
This is the dirt road along the top of the level. The big white building in the background is the soccer stadium where Vegalta, the Sendai pro team has their home games. I will be going to the last game of the season on Dec 4. It is still mathematically possible for them to be demoted back into the second level. I will probably post some pictures of that last game.

Nov 27, 2010

Near my home 12

This is the bridge that I cross on my way to the Yaotome subway station, as seen from the riverside level.When they built this new bridge, they fixed it so that you get pass underneath it as you walk along the riverside.
Before the construction, it was not possible to get any farther along the river, because a stream came in from the side. Now, however, they have build a pedestrian bridge so you can follow the river all the way to the park.
Standing on the bridge you get a good view of the local Buddhist temple, which rings a bell every morning at 6:30 so I am well aware of it.

Nov 26, 2010

Near my home 11

Leaving home around 9:45, I headed for the subway station to go to my classes at Miyagi Gakuin University. Along the river there is a large area of what appears to be goldenrod. The man, who owned most of this area and still lives here, cuts the vegetation back once in a while, but he always leaves the goldenrod. The hayfever sufferers are probably not to happy but it does look nice. Across from the goldenrod is a little foot bridge. The paved walk along the top of the embankment belongs to the government so it is not legal to build a permanent bridge. This one is not attached at the left end. It is just sitting on the ground. Actually it is not used much and seems to be nothing more than a short cut.
The guy who cuts the weeds has a very nice garden in front of his house. Actually his wife takes care of it. I sometimes stop and chat with here when she is out weeding. I do not know the name of this plant but the red berries and the green leaves are very festive looking. The taller reddish plant changes colors in the fall and exhibits some beautiful variations.
This is the plot of land where they hold the river festival each summer. The little local shrine used be on this plot but it was moved from the public land to private land exactly opposite the original site. It moved less than 10 meters so the god is probably not too upset.

Nov 24, 2010

Christmas cakes

Many years ago, during my first winter in Japan, I had one of those strange cross cultural experiences. It was before Masayo and I were married, and we were walking through the shopping area of the little town near the base where I was stationed. All of a sudden this man came running out of a shop and calling to me. He kept repeating, "Christmas cake, Christmas cake" until he had my attention. Then he said that since I was a foreigner I would naturally want a Christmas cake and that his were the best in Japan. I looked in the store and all I could see were cakes, covered with whipped cream and whole strawberries. They looked like nothing I had ever seen before. They were very fancy, but not at all Christmas-y. I must have looked confused because the man kept telling me that all foreigners had to have a Christmas cake and that I should buy one of his. I politely refused and we continued down the street. When we got to the station, Masayo explained, while we waited for a train. In Japan, everyone thinks that North Americans and Europeans all have a cake, covered in piles of brilliant white whipped cream and bright red strawberries as part of our Christmas celebration.

This week I opened the TV supplement to our newspaper and found the page in the following pictures. Bakeries are getting more creative these days and no longer is the frosting restricted to plain whipped cream. Christmas cakes are an extremely well established part of Japanese culture and one that most people still think is an exact copy of what is done in the West. (The ads at the bottom of the pages are for two different 'new towns', a large plot of land where contractors build houses and then sell them.)

Nov 23, 2010

Near my home 10

Looking across the street from the bus stop, I could see couple of trees that are typical of Japanese trees in the late fall and winter, after the leaves are gone so that the trunks and branches are visible. These are, of course not natural. A couple of times a year gardeners come and trim the branches back to the same place. A knob develops at these places and each spring new branches burst forth, only to be trimmed back again in the fall. In some places there are whole streets lined with trees like this. In people's gardens the trees are trimmed for shape, like in front of the house I showed you yesterday. Along the roads the trees are just trimmed to keep them from interfering with the power and telephone lines and to keep the root system small. Apparently the roots do not spread out much further than the tips of the branches. In places where there are no utility lines so the trees are not trimmed, the sidewalks are extremely bumpy because of the roots of the trees.
Turning in the opposite direction, there is an interesting fence separating the empty store from the sushi shop. It has wooden posts and bars that are connected by vertical slates of bamboo. In addition to the bamboo there is some sort of dried reed between the slates and the bars on the side nearest the empty store. The impression that it makes is that you are somewhere out in the countryside, however, the lights advertising the sushi shop do spoil the atmosphere a bit.
On Thursday morning it was very cold, near zero degrees C, and the air was extremely clear and crisp. The sun was low on the horizon and but was intensely lighting the upper portions of the buildings. It was also the cause of some beautiful colors in the sky. The picture does not do it justice. I was tempted to just stand there and enjoy the view, but I had to get to the station so that I would not miss my bus.

Nov 21, 2010

Near my home 09

I thought you might like to see what a Japanese gas station looks like. This is one of a chain called ENEOS and it is across the street from the 7/11 site.Next door to the gas station is a store that sells Buddhism related items. One of the main things they sell are large and expensive cabinets that hold a statue of Buddha or a bodhisattva. People have these in a prominent place in their home and put pictures of dead relatives on the shelves and daily burn incense and leave offerings of fruit and sweets. Many people sit in front and tell a departed spouse about what they have been doing. Others will sit and ask for advice about problems in their life.

This is the sushi shop that is next to my bus stop. I previously showed you a picture of this but I noticed that behind the shop there is a typical Japanese house.
I walked down the parking lot to get a better view of the house. It is representative a most new house here. It is two stories because the lot is small. In front is a small garden that requires gardeners to come twice a year to trim the trees. Inside the first floor will have a living room, a dinning room, a kitchen, a bath and a toilet. Upstairs will be tatami mat rooms for sleeping.
One interesting thing about houses is that the government has changed the laws about how much space there has to be between walls. In the past house were built as close together as possible, creating a fire hazard. Now you have to leave space between them. One of the results is that when a house gets old and unlivable, people renovate, keeping enough of the old framework so that they can maintain the size. There is even a weekly tv show where they show a house with problems and then an architect redesigns and rebuilds the house. Often large parts of the frame work have to be replaced because of termites or dry rot. The total cost is fixed in advance so the architect must balance things, adapting as work progresses. The total cost of rebuilding an old house is about the same as building a new one.

Nov 20, 2010

Near my home 08

It was Tuesday again and walking by the small shrine on my way to the bus stop, I realized that I had not shown you this garish sign that identifies it. It says the name is the Takadama Jinja (tall jewel shrine). Takadama is the name of this area and includes my apartment building. The small print at the top seems to identify the Shinto sect that the shrine is affiliated with, but I am not sure. One thing about living in Japan for a long time, one gets very comfortable with ambiguity and not knowing. This next picture shows a sign that apparently gives the history of this little shrine, but the characters are very hard to read because of weathering, so I am not really sure about the content at all.
Behind the shrine is something else that I realized that I did not show in my previous posting - a playground for the kids. The strange structure in the back with all the posts and no roof is a support for fujii - wisteria. Also notice the statue of a cat that the kids can climb on.
Finally this is the site where they are building the 7/11. There is now a sign out on the main road that says it will open before the end of the year. I am going to try to remember to take a picture every Tuesday so that you can see just how fast this sort of building goes up, even when they do not hurry. I walked by there today (Saturday) without a camera, and noticed the concrete foundation was already poured and hard. There were some workmen there putting in steel rods to reinforce the floor, which I guess will be poured tomorrow or Monday.

Nov 19, 2010

Near my home 07

On Thursday mornings I have a class from 8:50 to 10:10. The bus for the subway station leaves at 10:15, so I do not have time to get out to the bus stop and, therefore, must wait for the next bus which leaves at 11:15. On many days I stop and have coffee and chat with a young British friend and colleague. He is the one who replaced me when I retired, but he has now moved to Miyagi Gakuin U where he can teach in his area of specialization, child education. We usually chat until about 11:00 and then I walk out and wait at the bus stop.On the day I took the above picture, I realized for the first time that I could see the hilltop statue of Kannon that can be seen from all over Sendai. If you look carefully, you will find it at the V-shape in the middle of the picture that is formed by the trees. The statue is a little to the right of the telephone poles. The flat roof, by the way, is the entrance/exit to the underground passage that allows pedestrians to get to the other side of the street. It keeps the women out of the traffic.
Here is a shot taken with the telescopic function on the camera. You can see Kannon standing tall.

Nov 18, 2010

Near my home 06

The previous pictures were taken on a Tuesday around noon time. On Wednesdays I leave home at about 9:45 and walk to the subway to go to my classes. The new fire station has been open about two weeks but I finally remembered to bring my camera with me. The station has room for six fire trucks, a command car, and an ambulance. You might notice how small the engines are. That is because many of the roads are very narrow and the big trucks can not navigate them. There are some large ladder trucks but this new station apparently will have only trucks that can reach just about any house. They can reach our apartment in less than five minutes. The ambulance is a public ambulance and will respond to a call for free. I have used the service once when I had a bad kidney stone attack early in the morning.The command car and the ambulance are out somewhere. They are usually parked in the right hand bay.
The station is in the middle of the picture. The multistory building is an apartment building that is across the road from the station.

Nov 16, 2010

Near my home 05

This is another picture of the corner where the 7-11 is being built. Just over the bike rider's head, there is a horizontal red sign with yellow circles. That is part of our favorite Chinese restaurant. This week my wife and I went there for lunch on her birthday. That is when I found out about the 7-11.While waiting at the bus stop, I happened to look down at my feet and saw a white emblem of some sort on a manhole cover.
On closer inspection I found that it was quite old. There are two words written on it in hiragana. The one on the bottom is osui, which means sewerage or drainage. The word at the top is the interesting one. It is izumishi and that means Izumi City. Now, when I came to Sendai more than 13 years ago, Izumi was already Izumiku, or Izumi Ward. The city had already been incorporated into the much larger Sendai City. This means that this little plaque has been here for more than 15 years. Considering that it is in amazingly good condition.

Nov 15, 2010

Near my home 04

Standing at my bus stop, I can see this sushi restaurant with its large parking lot behind me.Across the street is the shopping complex. The main store is Seiyu (you can see the name on the tower in the center of the picture), a supermarket and department store chain. This one is not very good. The store layout is terrible so they do not get very many customers. This has meant that the small independent stores have been closing one after another, which further reduces the number of customers.
Looking back along the route that I followed to get here, you can see the constructions site on the corner. Yesterday my wife and I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant just a bit past the site and as we walked by we discovered a sign that indicates what will be on the lot. It is not going to be an apartment building. It is going to be a 7-11. This will be a really convenient convenience store.
This poster is on a tree next to the bus stop. It says that on Oct 17 someone on a motorcycle hit a pedestrian and then rode off without identifying themself. The sign was put up by the police and they are asking anyone with any information to please report it.

Nov 14, 2010

Near my home 03

Continuing up the street, I passed a new construction site. There used to be a two story building on this corner. It contained a motorcycle shop, a dry cleaners, and various other stores, none of which lasted very long. I am still not sure what is being built here, but I would bet a good deal of money that it will be an apartment building.
On reaching the main street, I turned right and passed this building. It has been empty for months. There was a store called Workman, that sold clothing for workers, but it went out of business less than a year after it opened. Before that there were stores here but they changed every year.
The next picture shows the beginning of the shopping center. Our apartment is next to it but around the side. This store has large sized men's and women's clothing. It is a shame that it was not here back when I was big enough to need special sized clothes. Now I am a regular Japanese large so I can get clothing anywhere. I still have problems with shoes, though. The last pair I bought were about a size 9 but wide. The width was called G, which is equal to EEEEE.
I reached my bus stop which was marked in the standard way. The round part at the top tells the name of the stop and the bus company (there are two) and the rectangular part has the schedule. The bus I take goes to the entrance to Tohoku Gakuen University. There are two minor problems, however. The first is that the only bus leaves here at 12:29 and arrives at the university in less than 15 minutes. The problem is that my classes do not start until 2:40. I usually spend the time in the teachers' lounge reading, listening to my iPod, and sometimes preparing tests.

Nov 13, 2010

Near my home 02

In the final picture in my last blog, there was a torii in the background behind the pile of ice scrapings. Today I am going to show you the Shinto Shrine that is marked by that torii. This first picture shows the overall shrine. Large, famous shrines usually have long, straight access roads to the torii, but this one is small and the access path comes in from the sidewalk at a right angle to the torii.

It is getting colder by the day. Over night lows are less than 10 degrees C these day so the leaves have changed color. I have read that the only places in the world where there is a variety of fall colors is New England and Tohoku in Japan, although I have to say there is more variety in New England than there is here. It is still nice, though.
Here you can see the tops of the two stone posts that mark the entrance from the sidewalk.
The shrine itself is quite small, only about 10 feet tall.
In front of the shrine there is the usual donation box. Hanging from the eaves is a small bell that the worshiper rings to get the attention of the resident god. Someone has been taking care of this because the folded white paper strips hanging below the bell are quite new and not at all suffering from exposure to the elements.
It is hard to see but on the left in the corner formed by the fence, there is another shrine. It is small, about half the height of the fence and it is made from ceramic with a dark brown glaze. It is very similar in shape to the main building but it does not have a donation box in front.