Walky Walky!

MJG Food / Drink, Japan 3 Comments

I know when I take my hippo for a walk I entice it along with chocolate.

My buddy Canadian Mike does a great line in posts about Kooky Japan- it’s fun, people like to read about it, and it drives traffic (come ye millions with your ad-traffic!), so I figured I’d give it a shot.



Walky Walky


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Taro Okamoto’s Museum

MJG Guides, Japan Leave a Comment

So a few weeks ago I went on an art museum-ing jag, partly because I like modern art, and partly because I was looking for ideas for stories.

Perhaps the best museum I went to was the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art. Of course I couldn’t take photos inside- but here’s a few pictures from outside:

This is a bunch of guys trying to catch a zeppelin.

This is a minotaur Mr. Potato Head with its face taken off.

At the bottom is a picture of the Tower of Sun in Osaka. I wanted to buy a print or poster of it in the museum gift shop- but they don’t sell them! Crazy.

Onto Taro Okamoto. To be honest- his art didn’t do much for me. It’s all splashy colors, abstract, bright, with evocative titles and some recognisable motifs. The sculpture I liked- but again, just one or two ideas (for example: the moon-sun face from the Tower of Sun is very common in his work).

I think I’ve seen a lot of this type of thing before. He says he was inspired by Picasso and Dali, and I could clearly see that. He’s similar to both of those, only- dare I say it- not as good. He’s like Picasso but messier, and like Dali but not nearly as photo-real or imaginative.

He’s also like Miyazaki, who makes the Studio Ghibli films, especially in the faces of monsters. You can peruse his site to see more of his work.

The thing I like best was an exhibition of the winning pieces from a recent modern art competition. The idea for my story Flatland came from a piece of sculpted art that was basically Flatland- a miniature elevated world with a skyscraper in the middle. The idea for another story ‘The Giant Robot and the Myna Bird’, as yet unpublished, came from a giant khaki robot arm surrounded by khaki tanks and jeeps at the entrance.

There was a guy there asleep in a bed, with a film of his night time antics running on the wall over his head. The film showed him doing wacky things like lying down on bicycle signs painted on the floor and pretending to ride them. Fun. If you rang the bell, he woke up and chatted to you.

I wish I had photos or links to this stuff- but sorry, nothing. Useless gift shop! Use your imagination 😉

And as promised- the Tower of Sun, from Wikipedia:

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Mike buys a bike!

MJG Uncategorized 4 Comments

Last weekend I finally bought, after months and months of deliberation, a new bike. Part of the problem was having a similar bike back in the UK- but the cost of shipping it was prohibitive. A tricky situation, since I have a hard time spending money.

Why is that? Is it the Puritan ethic I was raised with? Is it me trying to save the world by minimizing my carbon footprint? Is it that I don’t want to consume any goods as that encourages little kids in Asia to work in sweat shops? Who knows.

Anyway- here it is:

Trek 7.3 FX

She’s a beauty. I name her- Talulah!

It’s a Trek (Talulah the Trek) 7.3 FX, which means it has 7.3 different types of special effects- like cross-fade, fade-out, and bullet-time like in the Matrix. I can control them from a handset mounted on the handlebars.

It cost a pretty penny- 72,000 yen for the bike, then gear cost another 50,000, which adds up to about $1,200, or 800 pounds. It’s expensive, but I think it’s a solid buy.

Jason and I went for a 66km ride the day that I picked it up. We basically did a loop all round the city, up towards Saitama, round to the East and a park in Chiba by Tokyo Bay, then up through Ginza and Tokyo.

It was good. Exhausting though. The ride down the Arakawa river was against a severe headwind. Very hard work- never getting any momentum. All the joy sucked out of going down hills, as the wind stole our inertia.

We made it home around 6pm. 3 hours 10 minutes actual riding time. Maybe 5 hours for the whole journey. We didn’t stay in the park long- it was freezing down there with the wind off the ocean.

Caterpillar Man

MJG Stories, Surreal 2 Comments

I fell in the hole on a Tuesday.

The hole is a hole in the road.  It’s not such a busy road, sure.  Maybe 50 people walk by a day.

I fell in by accident and now I can’t get out.  The sides are steep, and there’s nothing down here for me to eat but this damn banana tree and rat bones.

There’s a lot of dry and dessicated rats down here.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  But, I have to eat, so I crack the bones and slurp down the dry marrow.  It’s like molasses, but not as sweet.

I see people walk by above me.  I’m reminded of the man in the well in the Murakami story.  Even in the day-time, I can see stars.


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Flatland @ Reflection’s Edge!

MJG Books, Stories 10 Comments

My story Flatland goes to Reflection’s Edge!

At the center of Flatland there was a tall sky-scraper, thirty stories high. In the skyscraper were many offices, filled with workers who spent their days typing at their ledgers, recording the business of Flatland that they could see out of their windows.

After their work was finished every day, they left the skyscraper and went to their homes. They lived in houses and farms spread around the town; the only town in Flatland.

Flatland was not very big. Perhaps as big as six football fields.

Read the full story at Reflection’s Edge.

Sagasu’s Life @ Reflection’s Edge!

MJG Books, Stories Leave a Comment

My story Sagasu’s Life goes live at Reflection’s Edge!

Sagasu was watching the child in the corner. The corner was dark, and the child was dark. Its mouth was open, always.

Sagasu was grinding butterfly’s wings. He was mixing them with chalk dust and melted ox fat. He used a pestle and mortar and he ground them so the smell of ivory burning filled the air, and he clicked his teeth and sometimes he spat into the paste.

He shaved a hammer and dropped the fine iron filings into the mixtures.

Read the full story at Reflection’s Edge.

Hole-digging, Shimoda Beach

MJG Guides, Japan Leave a Comment

I’ve always loved to dig holes. My earliest holing memory is in the back-yard with Joe as young kids, and us keen to dig a hole down to Australia, with what must’ve been toy plastic shovels. Some adult was egging us on, perhaps my Dad, and though even at the time I knew it was impossible, I still felt a certain excitement at the thought it was ‘possible’.

My Dad loves making sandcastles. I remember us on beach holidays, collecting shells to use as soldiers, arming the battlements as the sea rushed in, cheering the soldiers on like the musicians on the Titanic as they boldly played it down.

The stand-out beach-works though, the one that really captured my imagination, was one I witnessed on a childhood holiday I imagine in Staithes. There were two guys, I imagine a man and his grown-up son, in a nook on the beach between two tall chunks of rocks. They had real shovels, and were at once digging down, and also building up a wall of sand against the sea, flanked on either side by the rocks.

It was awe-inspiring to me. The sea was crashing against their wall, perhaps as tall as they were (though who knows how my memory might have exaggerated it), and they remained safely cocooned behind it, but still continuing to add to the wall, to stoke up the defences, to fend off the imminent breach for as long as possible.

They were surrounded by admirers, up on the rocks. Everyone was in awe and urging them on. To me it felt like history being written. It was perhaps the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

And I suppose that had me hooked.

My first real holes I dug on Hiltonhead island off North Carolina, on a holiday with my host family from when I was in school in Indiana. I arrived for some reason a few days before everyone else did, so somewhat randomly picked up the gardening shovel, and took it down to the beach with me. I dug my name in the sand. I made a big M. Then I guess I got down to digging.

I don’t have photos available now, but that hole was maybe 4 feet cubed. Not bad, but neither was it amazing. Still, it was enough to draw passers-by and to coax out some friendly conversation.

After that, every time at the beach I’d dig a hole. I never again had a shovel so conveniently to hand, so used plastic toy beach shovels, or driftwood, or my bare hands instead. It was always fun, but surely never very big or deep.

Until 2 weeks ago. I actually bought a shovel, and took it to a beach in Izu, for the express purpose of digging a mammoth hole. I suppose people on seeing me with the shovel- I went with 5 other friends- thought it was a bit weird, and that I would just tinker around in the sand some, make some sand-castles, and be done. I wasn’t even sure myself how big a hole I could make.

Sunday, our only full day on the beach, rolled around. I sun-creamed up. It was hot as blazes out. I body-boarded for a while, sunbathed, chilled. Then finally got out the blade, and traced a crushingly ambitious circle out onto the sand. Perhaps 7 foot in diameter. Then I got into it.

Going was slow at first. That wide a circle takes a lot of digging to get down even a foot. Loose top-sand, and lots of it. A wide circle was necessary though, if I wanted to go deep, because vertical sand walls collapse, so you have to let them cant in. And also, the deeper I got, the harder it would be to manoeuvre the shovel. So I went wide.

It was pretty tiring, but soon it was attracting attention from other beach-goers. Surfers and their kids, or people out walking their dogs, came by to peer in and check it out. At one point, when I was away body-boarding, apparently a whole family scrambled down into it to look around.

Then I hit water.

The crazy drunk Irish guy who had been running around like a madman chasing a little spaniel came over and eyed it up. His big older American buddy, with a lovely young J-girl wife, came by to check it out and give encouragement. He told me how he used to dig holes himself, on the beaches of Florida, as a young man. He confirmed it was fun, and great exercise. That was cool of him.

Then the little girls came. 4 of them, completely un-minded by their various sets of parents, standing around the hole, checking it out. I offered them the shovel. One of them had a go and managed to dig a little sand back into the hole. I thanked her.

Then I realized that the tide was coming in, and leapt into action. It was coming in, but slowly, and since I’d built my hole on a hump, I could see it was unlikely to reach that high. It would need some help.

So I set to work in a frenzy. I marked a channel into the sea, and I started to dig like it was a race against time, like those two guys digging up their wall to protect against the sea. Only here I was letting the sea in. I was drawing it in.

The canal grew closer. I was lengthening one minute, widening the next, watching the waves hungrily. Then suddenly, the first one slicked up to my feet, fell into the canal, and wormed it’s way about halfway towards the waiting hole. I callooed and callayed, you betcha. And got back to work.

Before long, the first torrent hit, sloshed down the sluiceway, and my hole was beginning to fill.

The small crowd gathered around; my friends, the little girls, the American and the Irish guy, all hurrahed.

We stood round the hole for a good while after that. It was like standing around a fire. Looking into the flames, their random patterns entrancing. So I found the hole, filled with water, sometimes getting sloshed by new influxes, sand collapsing, patterns shifting.

The little girls went down into the pool to check out the gross sea-froth on top. The Irish dude jumped right in and said it looked like a big beer. The American dude brought me over a Bucks Fizz, which I sipped while watching the hole do it’s thing and we chatted about the history of the area.

Soon enough, the surfer parents re-materialized, the kids dissipated, and the sun sank down. It was time to fill the hole in. It’s dangerous not to. So, fulfilled, and with the help of my friends, we filled it in in about one tenth of the time it took to dig it.

Thanks to Canadian Mike for taking these photos.

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Shimbashi Ice-Walkers

MJG Japan, People / Culture Leave a Comment

I saw something cool while passing through Shimbashi station last week on my way to work.

Two suited older foreigners, a guy and a woman, were unloading big blocks of ice from white polystyrene crates outside the JR exit, then tying them up with string. I figured it was some kind of art thing, and I like art, and had time before my next class, so decided to join the small crowd of onlookers and see what would happen next.

After they got done tying, the woman and some J-helpers gathered around to help the guy hoist his ice onto his back.

After it was hoisted, he took off walking.

Then the woman followed, dragging hers. I guess it was heavy, and maybe she didn’t want to get wet.

They walked around like that for a bit.

I tracked the woman for a while, and asked her what it was all about. She told me the stones were from Switzerland, and they were Artists for Activism. She pointed at their sign, which said ‘Artists for Activism’. I asked her what she was active for, perhaps Global Warming, but she didn’t seem to really know, and suggested I talk to one of the J-dudes organizing.

I went over to him, he spoke good English, and he gave me a flyer, which said ‘Artists for Activism’ also. The dates and places for the other events were shown on a way zoomed-out Google maps graphic, unlabeled, so there was no way to know exactly where the events would be. How very mystique/modern/cool, I thought. Also infuriating- because no way to track down other events.

I asked him what the Activism was for, but he didn’t seem to know either. I suppose it doesn’t matter that much with this kind of thing.

Anyway- I couldn’t stay to watch the whole performance, but I could get an idea of what they were doing. They had chalked out a white circle on the floor, and every time a stone melted loose, they took it over and put it on the line. I don’t what that meant either.

I love random art like this. I love modern art. Anything that makes not much sense but is innovative and shows me something I’ve never seen before- I’m a fan.


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Japanese Manga

MJG Japan, Manga / Anime / Cosplay 1 Comment

I started reading some Japanese manga recently. Here’s a photo of the ones I’ve read so far:

Here’s a rough breakdown of their content:

Crows- A blonde kid with super fighting powers turns up at the Crows school and starts kicking everybody’s asses because they get in his way.

One-Piece- A kid with special powers (GUM-U GUM-U Mr. Fantastic-style stretchy body, allowing for GUM-U GUM-U rocket punch and etc..) wants to become the Pirate King, and kicks everyone’s asses because they get in his way.

Naruto- A ninja kid with special powers (he’s got strong magic maybe) acts like an idiot and starts kicking people’s asses because they get in his way.

There’s obviously a pattern, but then it’s probably unfair to judge them poorly for this- because they’re primarily aimed at juveniles, AND of course I’m only understanding the bare minimum as I read- so only getting the broad strokes. I look at the pictures mostly.

But why? Why after 4 years am I suddenly taking an interest in Japanese culture?

Well- good question. I suppose it’s just about time. I’ve been here 4 years!! More than that to be honest. I’ve tried many times to study Japanese. I’ve had free classes, paid classes, and studied solo. I tried writing in Japanese in my diary, tried speaking in Japanese to my girl-friend, went to work as an ALT hoping I’d get serious about Japanese, tried studying Harry Potter in Japanese, tried studying fairy stories in Japanese, bought flashcards, listened to all the Pimsleur audio lessons, listened to Japanese podcasts, and etc..

But none of those really stuck or worked much. I lost motivation. That could just be my mind giving up, but I have a hard time blaming my mind when learning Japanese just never seemed relevant. Even when I was studying real written Japanese and not lesson material, I chose materials that weren’t really Japanese in the first place- Harry Potter!

All of that has been by-passing the purpose of language- which is communication. I was studying the language like it was something dead and irrelevant, since I have/had no Japanese friends, and no Japanese inputs/outputs in my life. But of course it is not dead and irrelevant, it’s happening all around me.

So, now Manga. It’s relevant. It’s vibrant and new and always changing. It’s a big Japanese export, and it helps shape the world zeitgeist. So- it’s a worth-while thing to get onto.

I think.

I guess we’ll see. So far I have learnt some new words, and guessed at many more, and ignored most. When I think about how I felt when reading Lord of the Rings for the first time at around 10 years old- It’s kind of the same thing. If nothing else, it builds familiarity with the Japanese syllabary, kanji, and high-frequency words and expressions. The high-frequency stuff I’ll see again and again, and should eventually be able to start guessing their meanings accurately. Then when I get that in the bank, and can fix the context of what I’m reading better, the low-frequency stuff should start to give up its secrets.

I hope.

Will it help me with speaking? I think it will. But we’ll see.


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