Aug 29, 2014

Cotton candy

 This little girl is buying some cotton candy. Most festivals have at least one both that sells cotton candy. Most kids think it is a real treat.
The man with the yellow shirt is the head of the senior club and one of the movers in our neighborhood. He seems to have his fingers into almost everything. His is good because he is quite competent and things go well when he is involved. We know him fairly well because he is a member of our ground golf group, so we see him twice a week at our practices.

NOTE: It was relatively cool yesterday, about 25 degrees C, so I was able to go out for a walk. Also a couple of days ago I took some pictures around the neighborhood. This means that I have enough photos to start posting more than one a day again. I hope that you enjoy them and maybe learn a little bit about life in Japan.

Aug 28, 2014

Festival food

This booth is selling food and drinks. The man in front is getting change for the dish of something that is on the counter in front of him. The sign in front of him says that ice coffee is 200 yen (US2.00) and canned beer is 400 yen. Festivals are one of the few places in Japan where you will see people wandering while eating. It is much more common than it was forty years ago when I first came here, but in general it is a bit unusual. Of course, people will eat ice cream and things that they get from a vending machine, but is has traditionally been thought of as something you do not do. However, as with all tradition it is changing, and fairly rapidly in this case.

Aug 27, 2014

Festival games

This is one of the typical games that people, mostly children, play at local festivals. This one has a couple of pools of water in which a large number of superballs are floating. You pay a couple of hundred yen and get a little thing that looks like a small fan where the large round part is maybe three inches in diameter. This round part is actually just a frame covered with tissue paper. The object is to scoop up as many balls as you can before the water soaks into the paper and weakens it so that it will not hold the weight.

The little boy has a 'fan' and a dish to hold his winnings. It looks like he has gotten quite a few. The man in the red t-shirt is putting someone's winnings in a plastic bag. This type of game is very popular with the kids. One last point, if a kid is unable to get anything, they usual give him or her a few so that they go away happy. In other words, everybody wins.

Aug 26, 2014

Important festival ingredient

Here are some people using a couple of coolers to sell one of the important ingredients to any Japanese festival - beer. Drinking in public is generally acceptable in Japan, but especially at festivals where there is always at least on shop selling beer. For Shinto festivals sake, Japanese rice wine, is an important part of the ceremony. I have posted pictures of the New Year activities at one of the local shrines in Sendai. After paying your respects to the enshrined god and making wishes for the coming year, you are given a cup of sake. When I lived in Shizuoka prefecture, we had a yearly three-day festival during which most of the men, yours truly included, spend the three days definitely under the influence of a huge amount of sake and bee.

Here the price of a can of beer is 300 yen which is quite reasonable for this sort of festival. Many restaurants will charge as much or more. The pink sign over the man's head, says canned beer, 300 yen. The first character on the left means can or canned and the other three spell out beer phonetically.

Aug 25, 2014

A game

These two young ladies are offering a game of some sort. The sign, written on part of a cardboard box, says, 'Water Coin'. I did not go over to see what it was but I suspect that you could win some sort of small prize by dropping a coin (100 yen, about US$1.00) into the plastic box. If you were accurate enough to hit the right spot the prize would appear. At least that is what I think it might have been.

Aug 23, 2014

Entering the festival

As we climbed the stairs to the second floor a light rain started, so when we reached the festival people had their umbrellas open. There was no entrance fee, the normal thing at festivals, and we just walked in and started looking around. The first thing we noticed was that some kind of a performance going on under the tent at the right. It was a group of kids dancing to a recording. Many of the pop stars are members of groups that sing and dance as a unit. These kids were probably copying one of the pop groups, probably the ones who recorded the song. When I was in Sendai, in the downtown area there was a building with an inset entrance and shiny, reflective walls. Whenever I went by, there was almost always a group of kids using the large mirror-like walls to synchronize their moves.

Aug 22, 2014

Closer to the festival

As we got closer, we could see people standing along the railing of the second floor open area. We could also see that there were more than a single ten. From where we were we could here pop music coming from a PA system and a lot of noise in general.

I particularly like the shape of the top of the station building. It contrasts nicely with all the straight lines in the area. I you look closely you can see what appears to be a tree growing out of the roof. Actually is a tree growing on the roof. The fourth floor of the building has an outdoor garden. The two structures above the roof on the right are sunshades that shelter benches. The junior and senior high school students use the area a lot because they can sit and talk with direct observation by adults. Nothing outrageous or dangerous happens up there, just the chance to sit together in private.

The building is contains the train station but it is also a bus terminal. We have two bus lines that pass through here. The town run buses that go around the town on three different courses, passing through all the populated areas and only costing 150 yen (100 yen for seniors) no matter how far you go. When my wife and I first moved here, we took this buses and just rode until they returned to the station. We got to see the whole town that way. The other bus company, the bus in the picture belongs to them, is the Nishitetsu line. They are a large scale transportation company running buses and trains throughout northern Kyushu. From the station you get get to a number of destination is Fukuoka city, so depending on where we are going we take the train, the Shinkansen, not the Nishitetsu which does not have a train to our town or we take a bus. There is about one train an hour but usually about three buses. The train is at least three times faster than the bus.

Aug 21, 2014

Nearing the festival

The light blue building is the HakataMinami Shinkansen Station building, our destination for today's little trip. If you look carefully, you can see that on the open area on the second floor there are some tents. These are part of the Nakabaru Summer Festival. Nakabaru is the name of the area that we live in. It is similar to a ward in the US, just a political designation of part of the town. The population of Nakagawa Town in slightly  over 50,000 so the number of people living in Nakabaru is probably just a couple of thousand. My daughter and her six year old daughter are visiting us so we are taking them to the festival. I was sick last year so we did not go, thus, we really to not know what to expect.

Aug 18, 2014

Happy House

Japanese names for companies and products are extremely interesting and fun. This is a real estate agent called 'Happy House'. The name is written in katakana, the phonetic system that is used to render foreign words into Japanese. The one thing I wonder is how many people actually understand the meaning. When I used to ask my students about names, they frequently did not understand or just did not think about it, accepting the name as purely phonetic.

One of my favorite products is one of the first ones where I noticed the name. The product is a powdered coffee creamer and it has been for sale as long as I remember. It is quite popular and many people use the name as a general term for powdered cream. The name is CREAP. The label explains that this stands for cream (CREA) and powder (P). There are also packaged sausages named COWPAS, Think about it.

My wife has always wanted to have a party and serve nothing but things with strange names. There are enough that it would definitely be possible.

Aug 17, 2014

Curry Shop

On this day, my goal was this little hole-in-the-wall curry shop. The curry is excellent and we eat there about once a month or so. It is also where we buy our coffee. The first time we ate here we had coffee after our meal and it was the kind of weaker coffee that we like. The Japanese call it American coffee. Since we had not yet found a good source of ground coffee, my wife asked them the name of the company where they bought it. She was going to call and find a retail outlet. The woman in the shop, she and a man who does the cooking (husband and wife?) are the only staff, told us that we could buy packages of the coffee from them. She also said that they sold the coffee to other people, too. So now, we buy about two bags of coffee a month from them.

My wife was in Tokyo helping with my grandson so I decided that in addition to the coffee I would have my lunch while I was there. As usual it was delicious. If I lived alone and had to commute into Fukuoka city for work, I would eat there quite often. They are also open at night, when they serve alcohol and the necessary tsumami. The Japanese always eat when they drink, often quite a lot, and this food that accompanies the alcohol is called tsumami no matter what it consists of. Again, if I worked and still drank alcohol, I think I would frequently stop in on my way home at night. Both the man and woman are quite pleasant and easy to talk to.

Aug 16, 2014

Mini flower gardens

This is in front of the station. The road goes around to the immediate left and then turns back to the right and comes out from under the roof straight ahead and passes on the right. Throughout the town there are many trees planted along the roads. At the base of most of them are flower gardens like this. I am not sure but I think that this one is maintained by the station staff, but in most places it is volunteer groups who buy plants, weed and take care of the little gardens. It makes life in town much more pleasant.

Aug 15, 2014

Between my apartment and the station

This is the one block between the one my apartment is in and the one the station is in. Behind me there is a large apartment building. This part of this middle block consists of an empty field and a large parking lot. The station is behind the building on the left. This empty field used to be a rice paddy but the farmer has either given up or died. Right now, even though the surface is a foot or two below the road, the field is quite dry but it tends to flood during heavy rains. At the moment as you walk by, the sound is almost defining. The frogs have taken over and are calling for mates. It seems strange to hear this in the middle of an otherwise built up area. Usually the only place with this many frogs is in the countryside.

Aug 14, 2014

Parking bicycles

This is very typical of Japan. The white sign contains a warning that bicycles may not be parked here, yet there are almost ten of them and one is right next to the sign. These bikes belong to kids who are attending summer sessions at a juku, a prep school, that is in a building out of sight to the left. Almost all Japanese kids attend prep schools to practice for the entrance exams for the next higher level of education. Such entrance exams start for some kindergartens and get more frequent as the student's level increase. The college entrance exams have received a lot of attention in the international news.

Throughout much of my career I was involved in the English language portion of the entrance exams. When I was first in Japan, I worked at a school that was part of a system of schools run by a juku. While my school prepared students for jobs, I also did part time work for the prep school portion, writing study materials, recording study materials, writing examples of answers to the exams given at various universities, etc. I also prepared my school's entrance exam.

When I became a university professor, I was on the exam writing committee, although usually relegated to editing and correcting the students' tests. When I moved to a new university, I was usually in charge of preparing the English entrance exams and the grading process. This was a very stressful job since any errors were always big news and often made the national news, much to the dismay of the powers in the school. Luckily I had no such problems. Also for some reason, I was able to constantly generate tests that, when all the scores were plotted have a long tail on the high score side, a distorted bell curve. This was a useful quality because it meant that at the cutoff point there were only a few students with the same score. If the cutoff point were near the peak score there would be many students with the same grade making selection almost impossible.

After a few years, however, our university decided to use the standardized test that is given every year, so we no longer had to prepare our own. However, my nursing department accepted about ten practicing nurses every year. These prospective students already had a license but did not have BS degrees. They were able to obtain a BS in Nursing in about two years rather than the normal four. We tested these students ourselves. I was always in charge of preparing the test, for the approval of the Dean, of course. The Dean always approved. I worked with another native speaking professor and we were able to do a statistical study of the results after each test, something that was never allowed for the previous tests. Using these yearly analyses, we were able to improve the exams and they were statistically quite effective by the time I retired.

Returning to the bicycles, this parking in no parking areas is a big problem, especially around train and subway stations. In new stations or places were there is space, there are bicycle garages, where for a small fee, you can leave your bicycle for the day. However, in built up areas there is typically no place for a garage, so people just leave their bikes on the sidewalk, sometimes blocking it completely. The local governments are trying out many things to relieve the congestion, rent-a-bikes, taking the bikes to a collection point and charging the owner a fee for its return, etc. One other aspect of this is that many young people steal bikes, ride them to their destination, and just leave the bike. Since the owner does not know where the bike is, it will just stay there until it is stolen again or the city collects it. However, overall I think that progress is being made on this problem.

Aug 13, 2014

The game of GO

I play the game of GO, or IGO as it is also called. It is played on a 19x19 board with black and white stones. The stones are alternately placed on the intersections of the lines. The object is to enclose territory or to capture enemy stones by completely surrounding them. At the end of the game, the open spaces and any captured stones are each worth one point and the one with the most points win. There is a handicapping system so that players of different strengths can effectively compete with each other. There is also a ranking system that goes from 35kyu up to 1kyu and then from shodan (1 dan) to 9 dan. My club keeps records and after each game your ranking is adjusted, maybe moving within a rank or rising or falling a complete rank. I am currently playing at  2kyu, but they club members are predicting that within a few months I will be able to battle my way up to 1kyu

The rules of GO are very simple. The usual listing has only 10 and I have seen them expressed with as little as 4. However, what happens is very complicated, but there are sequences of moves and ways of playing that can be studies and learned. I often study at home. One advantage of living in Japan is that there is an Igo Shogi Channel on cable TV. Shogi is a game that is similar to chess, but you can place captured pieces back on the board as your men. This picture shows a game that is being played on TV. They limit the thinking time to 30 seconds so it goes pretty fast. They have a commentator and another person who analyze the game as it is being played, discussing the merits and demerits of specific moves and describing the possibilities for future moves. I watch two or three games a week in addition to solving problems on my computer. Hopefully, this study will have help and I will actually be able to move up to 1kyu. My goal is to become a shodan, but I have a long way to go.

Aug 12, 2014

Kamikaze pilots

This is a page of our local newspaper. It had an extended article about the Kamikaze (tokko in Japanese) pilots during world WWII. I find it interesting that the typical kamikaze pilot was young, idealistic and generally against the war. It would make an extremely good text on which to base a series of classes in a Japanese Culture course. The authors have to walk a very fine line by making them heroic in a losing cause. I am not going to discuss the war other than to say that for most people it seems to be both good and bad, depending on the exact nature of the discussion.

Aug 11, 2014

The Tent

Due to an eye infection, my granddaughter was not able to go to the swimming pool as she planned. Also it was far to hot to go anywhere outside, so we set up a tent in our living room. We even had a house guest for one night and she slept in the tent, camped in I guess you could say.

The area on the right side is my private area. I have my computer and a bookshelf. Also I have the area behind one of the doors, the rightmost one, for storing my stuff. I have mostly art supplies and electronic equipment. I have two computers in there, a large laptop and a netbook. I am planning on changing the operating systems from Windows to Linux on the laptop. The netbook already has Linux.

Aug 9, 2014

Color changing ball

 My just-turned-six-years-old granddaughter was here and she brought some toys with her. When she first showed me this ball, it was as in this picture, mostly green with a little blue. However, she threw it up in the air and ....
 .... when she caught it, it was mostly blue with a little bit of green. It was like something out of a science fiction story. Whatever happened, happened so fast that you could not see it, like in a magic trick.
However, when I looked at it carefully, I could see that it was made of a lot of strange shaped curved pieces that moved when you threw it. In the picture you can see that my thumb is actually inside the ball. When I pushed on the surface some of the pieces turned over, changing the color. It was very clever.

Aug 8, 2014

Mini public library

This is the third floor of the station building. It is where my GO club meets. This large room contains two three sections. The one I was standing in contains a large display of pictures of the various archeological sites in the town. On the right, out of sight is a branch of the town office where you can do most of the paperwork that you need for daily life. For major changes you have to go to the main office which is a fairly long way from here but accessible by the 150 yen town bus.

The shelves in the picture are a mini branch library. The books can be borrowed from here on an honor system and any library book can be returned through the book box. I've looked through the collection and there are a lot of travel books, many novels, and a scattering of other books.

Just out of the picture on the right, there are five computers that are connected to the internet. They are old and slow but they are free to use. When we first moved here, I used these computers to access my gmail account while we waited for our cable connection to be installed.

Aug 7, 2014

A bus jacking

While my wife was in Tokyo, I went to the local curry shop for lunch. We buy our ground coffee from them. The first time we went, we liked their coffee, so my wife asked where they got it, thinking that she could contact that company. However, the woman in the shop said that they order extra coffee for several people and she was more than willing to get some for us. The outcome was that we buy all our fresh coffee from the curry shop. I was getting very low on coffee so I went to buy some if they had it or order some if they had none in the store.

Now to the picture. While waiting for my chicken curry lunch, I was reading the newspaper and noticed the article in the left corner of page one. While this is a serious event, it does illustrate one of the positive reasons I live in Japan. A man took over a highway bus by force. However, since guns are illegal and very hard to get here, the best he could do for a weapon was a fruit knife. The usual procedure in cases like this is for the police to follow the bus until it has to stop and then talk the hijacker into giving up. If they can't do this, they get most of the passengers out the rear or the windows while distracting the hijacker, and then they simply overpower him. There are seldom an injures in this sort of event and, if there are, they are usually non life threatening cuts. I believe that in most cases in the US the hijacker would be armed with at least a pistol and that the outcome would be the death of one or more people. It is much more peaceful here.

Aug 4, 2014


This picture was taken by a friend of mine, Alastair Lamond. According to the sign, one box of melons costs 25,920 yen or about US$250.00. The sign also points out that there are two (2) melons in each box.

This is the gift giving time of year. I used to get boxes of beer or bottles of wine. People also send various kinds of specialty food and a variety of other things. The cost of the gifts is relatively easy to guess and also forms a part of the gift. Melons with their inflated prices, based on the pattern of ribs on the outside, are perfect when you want to make a definite impression. The recipient knows that it costs a lot.

We used to live in a melon growing area and were frequently given melons that did not have a good external pattern. They tasted the same, but the looks are important. The farmers give away or consume themselves the ones that do not look perfect so that they can maintain the high prices for the good ones.

At the barber

 My barber has this cute little dog. I scratched its head and it came over and asked for more, even jumping up on my lap
Here is the rest of  the barber shop. A haircut, shampoo, shave, and a blow dry are 1,700 yen, about US$17. Oh, yes, he also trims my beard for the same price. His daughter runs a beauty shop in the back corner, so sometimes, when it is busy, she comes out and helps with the haircuts. I like getting her because she gives a short shoulder and head massage.

Aug 3, 2014

Moving things around

This is my hobby and computer area in our apartment. I originally had the space of two door widths on the shelf in the closet, but we needed some more space for household stuff, so half of my stuff was put in some drawers on the other side of the room. My wife was in Tokyo helping to take care of my grandson who was in the hospital, and she asked me to move everything before she returned because my daughter and granddaughter were going to visit and need the drawers for their clothes while here.

Most of the stuff on the table in the foreground is art supplies with a bit of electronics piled in that had temporarily been in the drawers. I did manage to get it all put away before my wife got home and I hate to say it, but it is better organized now than when I had more room.

Aug 2, 2014

A cardboard bus

I was leaving Mirikaroden after my exercise class and I saw two men carrying a bus through the parking lot. I assume that it was used on one of the many activities that they have during the school vacation, but it sure was a mind boggling sight.

Aug 1, 2014

Rainy Season

 During the rainy season, as you would expect from the name, we have lots of rain. Here you can see the large drops splashing into the puddle in the street in front of our balcony.
This is what the neighborhood looks like during the rain. The above puddle is at the bottom. Normally we can see mountains in the distance but the rain and fog have completely obscured them. This, by the way, is the loading platform for the Coop Supermarket. Not a particularly picturesque scene but there is at least a farm plot in the space behind the white car. The little building on the right seems to be some sort of pump house for the drainage system, but I am not really sure. The is no sign on it so I can't really tell.