Oct 28, 2017

I love old buildings

This is a typical street view in the neighborhood where I live. The blue building on the left is a commercial site that houses a company. In the middle is their parking lot. There is no parking on the streets so companies and public sides must have their own parking lots. The building in the distance is the most interesting. It is an old Japanese style structure that in the past must have been the home of a wealthy rice farmer. Until less than 30 years ago this whole area was covered by rice paddies. I've seen aerial photos and there was nothing here except extensive paddies and an occasional house.

The room on the second floor must be very small and was probably built to allow the occupants an unrestricted view of their paddies. If I lived there, I would turn it into a study by adding a desk and bookshelves. Even now, it would be a nice place to work. The other interesting feature is on the right end of the building. They have added a modern-looking wall and an entrance. I did not find a location from which I could get a picture of it, but from what little I could see, the building must now be being used by some sort of company. I assume that this is because anyone who did business with the company would know where it is and others would have no reason to go there.

Oct 23, 2017

Gardens and Stones

I've mentioned the gardens that people have around their homes, especially the richer people. In order to have a Japanese style garden, you need to have professional gardeners come at least twice a year to trim and care for the trees and bushes. This picture shows the garden that greets you when you enter the driveway of this rich person's home. You can just see the roof of the building behind the trees.

Another feature of Japanese gardens are large stones that are used as part of the landscaping. Here they are used as a base for the concrete block wall that surrounds the property and as a retaining wall to keep the dirt in the garden from encroaching on the driveway.

 Stones are very important in Japan. This one is beside the road and a little bridge has been built over the canal so that people can get to it. There is a low concrete block wall separating this apparently public property from the surrounding private property. Usually large stones like this have some words engraved on one surface, usually something about the local history or something religious, Buddhist or Shinto. I crossed the bridge and looked carefully at the face of this boulder. There were some indentations but I could not determine whether they were Chinese characters that had been weathered so much that they disappeared or just natural markings. I searched around the area but there was no sign to tell visitors like me something about the stone.

Oct 22, 2017

An Oversized Bonsai and Onions

I was walking home from my exercise class. On the left side of the road was a large farm area and on the other a solid row of homes. In the farm I noticed this tree. It looked like an oversized bonsai, obviously carefully trained to grow almost horizontally to the ground. I would not be surprised to find such a tree in a garden around a large house, but it is surprising to find one in the middle of a truck farm. When this tree gets a little larger, the farmer will put some wooden braces under the extended branch to keep the tree from falling over.

 Almost directly across the street, I noticed these onions hanging under the roof of a parking spot. In areas with a lot of farming it is not at all unusual to see vegetables hanging outdoors but under roofs or in the sun. Onions and daikons are the most common but you will occasionally see other things, too. Persimmons that have been peeled and allowed to dry are also frequently seen. They become sweeter and chewy, a real treat in the fall. Cardboard boxes full of other vegetables are also common.
If you go near the ocean, rather than vegetables, you will see fish that have been cleaned and hung up to dry. Various types of seaweed are also seen drying in the sun in people's yards.

Oct 20, 2017

Another canal

I love the little canals that flow between the houses in many places. There are usually trees and flowers along the sides and they are often very picturesque. Also, you can sometimes see large birds wading or fish swimming in the water which is very clean except for immediately after heavy rains when some of the dirt washes out of the rice paddies.

Oct 17, 2017

Farming and Milikaroden

This is one of the largest rice paddies around town. Probably by next week when I return, it will have been harvested and all that will be left is stubble. The buildings on the right make up a complex called "Milikaroden". It is a culture center. The nearest building, the one with orange walls, is a children's center and seems to be quite popular, although I don't know what they offer. The next building has classrooms. It is where I am currently taking my exercise classes. It also contains an exposition area, a large auditorium, and the town library. Out of site behind these buildings is a heated indoor swimming pool that costs a few hundred yen per visit. It also offers various types of swimming classes.

The above rice paddy was large by Japanese standards but the farm below is more typical of what you find in Japan. This is a truck farm and the farmer probably has a number of little plots like this scattered around town. Most such farmers belong to cooperatives so that they can get together with other small farmers to pool their money and buy the various pieces of equipment that are necessary for efficient farming.

Oct 16, 2017

Straight Lines

There are many straight lines near my apartment. Here are two of them.

This is the small canal the runs by my apartment building. The wall in the foreground is part of the entrance and that in the background is the actual wall of one of the first floor apartments. Less than 30 years ago this entire area was rice paddies, and the farmer's cooperatives built canals all over the town to supply the water that is necessary for flooding the paddies in the spring. They vary greatly in size and many of them have been covered over so that they are more like sewers than canals but they are still carrying water. You can see that there is a guard rail separating the canal from the road but in many places there is nothing between the road and the water. This makes me glad that I do not drive a car, my license having expired in about 1980.

 Here is another straight line. It is composed of trees. Most of the main streets in town are lined with trees. In this picture you can see the gardeners trimming this year's branches and cutting off most of the leaves. They say that this is done to keep the roots short so that they do not damage the sidewalk or the street. The roots are supposed to spread so that they cover the same area as the branches, so short branches, short roots. Removing the leaves helps keep down the overall growth.

Oct 14, 2017

Prep Schools

One common sight in Japan is prep schools and signs for prep schools. This picture shows some signs advertising prep schools had have space in this building. Kumon is probably known to many people outside Japan. There are both large nationwide chains like Kumon, small mom-and-pop style schools, and everything in between. Also, a lot high school and college students make extra money by tutoring younger students.

When I first started teaching in Japan, I worked at what is called a senmongakko. It was a post high school program that gave a certificate of graduation rather than a diploma so it was one rank below a junior college. The school, Trident College, was owned by one of the top three prep schools in Japan. In addition to my regularly scheduled classes, I was able to do a lot of part-time, extra pay work in the prep school itself. I taught preparation classes for the high school and college entrance tests as well as making a large amount of materials for use by other teachers. Prep schools are a really huge industry in Japan.

Oct 12, 2017

Petanku Tournament

Yesterday, I played in a Petanku Tournament sponsor by the town's Senior Club. Petanku (ペタンク in Japanese and petanque in French) is a game the started in France. It is played with a small wooden ball about an inch in diameter and some larger metal balls that are about the size of a baseball and weigh around 700 grams. Each player has two of the metal balls and they are color-coded by teams, red and blue. There is also a plastic circle that marks out the spot where the shooter must stand. The game begins by one player standing in the circle and throwing the wooden ball at least six meters and then throwing one of the metal balls, attempting to get as close as possible to the wooden ball. Then, a player from the other team throws a metal ball. The players then determine which ball is closer to the wooden ball. A tape measure is a crucial piece of equipment for this game. Next, a player from the team whose ball is farthest away throws a ball. This continues until that team gets one or more balls closer to the wooden ball. This continues until all the balls are thrown. The score is determined by giving one point for each ball that is closer to the wooden ball than an opponent's ball. Thus, the maximum score per round is 6 points. There are ten rounds in a game. We also had a time limit. If you are interested in a more coherent explanation of the game I have placed a link to a Japan Times newspaper article about the game at the bottom of this page.

There were 32 teams of three competing. Each team played three games and were ranked by the number of points the team scored minus the number their opponents scored. My team won both of our first two games and were in third place overall. However, one of our team members got tired (remember this was the Senior Club and everyone was over 70 years old) so she dropped out and was replaced by a complete beginner. We were badly beaten in our third and final game, ending up somewhere in the middle rather than getting a prize. We did get, however, a participation prize that is always given to each competitor at a Senor Club Tournament of any kind - a box of tissues.

Here is a picture of one of the games. If you look closely, you can see the metal ball just in front of the two men on the right. I am sorry I could not get better pictures but my usual camera died and I had to use my two day old smartphone. I have not yet read the instructions on how to use the smartphone's camera, but after some experimentation, I did manage to get this. Hopefully, future pictures will be better. I do have some taken with my regular camera that I have not posted yet, so I have some time to figure out the smartphone.

After all the games were over, the three teams from our neighborhood sat together on a blue sheet and ate box lunches that were purchased by our neighborhood branch of the Senior Club. Some of the group also brought some additional food so we had a real feast.

Finally, I walked home with Mr and Mrs Oniki. He got an award for being the oldest player in the tournament. The Oniki's are also in my ground golf club so I know them quite well even though we are not close friends. In conclusion, I should add that we were the only ones who walked home (more than a mile). All the others either drove or rode a bicycle.

Here is the link to the Japan Times that I mentioned above.

Oct 10, 2017

Expectation of honesty

This is a picture of the parking lot of what for a long time was a noodle shop. That closed and a fried chicken boxed lunch restaurant opened in the small building. It was quite good, and cheap, so we bought them occasionally to have as lunch. However, one day as I walked passed, I discovered a rope across the entrance to the parking lot and a sign that said that the shop was temporarily closed. There was no explanation as to why it was no longer open.

Then one day during the summer, I walked by and found what you can see in the picture. There are a large number of stainless steel kitchen sinks and other kitchen furniture. From watching TV programs about fixing up homes, I know that the cost of this sort of thing, even used, is at least US$200. The one in the bottom right corner probably would sell for at least US$300. This means that there is more than US$1,000 worth of things just sitting here in the open. Anyone with a truck could just come and haul it away. No one would notice until the owner came back. However, this has been there for a few months and I expect that it will remain there until reclaimed by the owner.

If you lose something in Japan, it will probably be returned if the finder can identify you as the owner. The major exceptions to this are bicycles and umbrellas. If you find money and take it to a police station, they will try very hard to find the owner and then 'ask' that person to give you a reward of 10 to 20%. If they can not locate the owner, the entire amount becomes yours after six months. This apparently applies to objects as well as money.

When things like towels, pencil cases, etc, things that are not particularly valuable, are dropped on the street or left somewhere, the custom here is to put them on something so that they can be seen, hopefully, by the person who lost it.

Oct 9, 2017

Not home yet

This is one of my favorite corners in the whole city. Across the street, you can see a Baskins-Robbins 33 ice cream shop. On the near corner is a Mister Donut. This is an experimental shop, possibly still the only one like this in Japan. In addition to the usual donuts and coffee, in the mornings they sell a breakfast consisting of coffee, toast, and a salad. At all times during the day, they sell around a dozen different kinds of spaghetti and Chinese style noodles. They also have chunks of bread with various toppings. My particular favorite is what they call a "hot dog". It is a long sausage in a bun with catsup and mustard and a bottomless cup of coffee. It costs 450 yen, around four dollars US. Since I have to pass this Mister Donut on my way to my Sunday go club, I usually have my lunch here. After eating a hot dog, I sit and study go problems while drinking coffee.

 This is the Kashiwaragawa, the Kashiwara River. It is a branch of the Naka River that is nearer to my home than the main river. Like most of the rivers in this area, it is well below the level of the surrounding land and the banks are covered so that they will not be damaged by flooding. In this picture there is an egret flying over the left bank of the water. While narrow, Kashiwara River has a lot of birds, egrets, kingfishers, ducks, and other waterbirds plus sparrows and pigeons. Many of them nest beside the water so at certain times a year, we can watch they learning about the world.

The Kashiwara River runs along the west side of a fairly large park that contains the athletic field where I play ground golf on Monday and Thursday mornings.

Fire Hydrants

Fire hydrants in Japan are quite varied in comparison to those I have seen in the US. This picture shows on beside a building near my apartment. The blue sign gives the address of the building and the white sign has a map with other hydrant locations. I am not sure what the function of the red light is but it is definitely related to the hydrant.

Here is a better look at the connection point for attaching the hose.
 Traditionally, Japanese fire departments are a bit slow in arriving but very effective once they reach the site of the fire. The fire departments practice constantly and have competitions on all aspects of firefighting and life saving. If you will look back a few years in this blog, I posted quite a bit about the station that was near my condo in Sendai. They were one of the best in the country, having received a number of awards and won competitions.

Here in Nakagawa-machi, we do not have our own full time station but when needed the fire trucks come from the next city. It is only a few kilometers away so the arrive fairly quickly. Also, there are active volunteer fire departments in each ward of out town.

Oct 8, 2017

Sports in the park

Sport forms a very important part of life in Japan. On this day there was a soccer tournament for what looked like junior high school students. At least two or three times a month there are tournaments of some kind in the park. For school age kids, there are baseball and soccer tournaments and for adults there are ground golf, gate ball, and petanque competitions. Petanque is the French version of the game of bocchi ball which was popular in the eastern part of the US when I lived there. I am playing in a tournament next week so I will go into detail then.

The ground in the park can be reserved by groups. I play ground golf on the far half of the field twice a week and other groups use the space for practicing various sports.

In this picture, you can see two soccer games in progress, one in the foreground and one on the far side of the field.
 One feature of these tournaments for kids is that the parents come and set up tents. They eat and drink tea while watching their kids play. There are also kids whose team is not playing at the moment running around.

Oct 4, 2017

Going home

Some scenes from my trip home from the river. The area is crisscrossed with little canals like this. Until about 20 years ago this had been a rice growing area for more than a thousand years. Over that long span of time, the farmers joined together in cooperatives and build large and small canals to insure that all the rice paddies had access to sufficient amounts of water. The cooperatives also maintain these canals, periodical cleaning them and doing necessary repairs.

This surprisingly is a little truck farm. It looks like an empty lot a first and then you realize that the plants are growing in straight lines even though there are a lot of weeds.
 One of the the things I like about Japan is that there are numerous pedestrian ways that allow you to walk without all the traffic noise along the street-side sidewalks. The chain-link fence separated the path from the athletic field of a large grade school.
 Here is another canal but this one runs down the middle of a street. Actually, there is two-way traffic on both sides. The building on the left is a club house for the grade school. The fence is a continuation of the one in the last picture.

Oct 2, 2017

Along the river on my way home

People fishing is a very rare sight along the river, but this man was trying hard. At this spot there are a lot of small fish, about 10 centimeters (~4 inches). I think they are what is called 'ayu' in Japanese. In English they are sweetfish, Plecoglossus altivelis. This fish's name leads to a very bad pun that the junior high school students who are just beginning to seriously study English enjoy. The pun is "Ayu a fish?" which with Japanese pronunciation sounds like "Are you a fish?"

At the point where the riverside path heads back to the top of the embankment,there is a small park. They are hard to see but there were some kids playing on the blue slide behind the trees. The trees in public areas are usually trimmed once or more usually twice a year. This is said to keep the roots from growing and effecting the surrounding area. These trees have been cut back into the traditional shape that is seen in gardens, both public and private. As with most parks in Japan, this one has a public restroom which is very helpful on long walks.
About 100 meters away, I have to cross a road that comes from a bridge over the river. Once safely across the road and another 100 meters or so toward home, the path turns away from the river and follows a canal. This was the place where they built one of the new moveable dams. The dam is in the middle of the picture. The white line is where the water is flowing over the moveable section that is to the left. On the other side of the concrete structure there is another moveable dam and beyond that there is an overflow outlet that also allows water from a canal to enter the river.
Turning and looking back in the direction from which I came, we can see the pool formed behind the dam. If the dam is raised, the water will come about half way up the bank on the far shore. You can see the bridge on the extreme left.