Forget The Flowers

9 04 2009

Hanami, Kyoto, 4/8/2009

I imagine you’re all sick of sakura by now, but the cherry blossom season is a major part of the year in Japan. One of the most common activities is hanami, or flower viewing. Basically you take a meal and a bit of alcohol and sit around, admiring the trees and realizing that the blossoms will soon be gone, taken by birds and the wind, pondering the transience of existence. This all makes much more sense after you’ve been drinking.

The temperature jumped up about fifteen degrees over the weekend.

The temperature jumped up about fifteen degrees over the weekend.

I’m nearly done with the KCJS program, and now I’m beginning to reflect on the program, prompted in part by a letter I received from a former Japanese teacher asking me to recount my experiences in Japan. My main dilemma is that it’s hard for me to separate the program from being in Japan; did I have fun here because or in spite of KCJS? I’m not entirely sure, but I did appreciate the many efforts KCJS made to try and get people involved and give us all something to do. Some of their attempts (such as the community invovlement project) were annoying as hell, but I came to appreciate them over time. Unfortunately, the classes outside of those for Japanese language are a mixed bag. I really enjoyed my translation course, but Japanese religion was nightmarishly boring. It was like some seperate, hellish dimension where every hour in the real world was an enternity for everyone listening for the umpteenth time about how religion was “domesticated” in the Tokugawa era. Seriously, we had like forty goddamn classes on that topic.

And now, music. The new Neko Case, Middle Cyclone, continues to be awesome. Here’s a video for “People Got a Lotta Nerve”.

Japanese game shows continue to amaze me, especially this one. Don’t they have laws against this sort of thing?

Music I’m Listening to Now: “Rosewood, Wax, Voltz + Glitter”, Red Red Meat. I actually payed for this cd on iTunes  (thanks for the gift certificate, Molly and Chris). The former band Tim Rutili, of Califone fame, has a much more emphasis an distorted guitars and dirty blues, but you can definitely see the roots of Califone’s gothic Americana, especially in the ballads, such as closing track “There’s Always Tomorrow”. Here’s one of the highlights of the record, “Chain, Chain, Chain”:

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Spring Hall Convert

5 04 2009

Street outside Kyodai and Yoshida Jinja, Kyoto, 4/1/2009

After my last post discussing the virtues of Kyoto in Spring, the city has had several weeks of alternately cold and rainy weather, with the occasional sunny, warm day only a brief respite. With April, however, it seems that Spring is finally settling in. The temperature is rising, the sun is shining late into the day, and the sakura are practically exploding off their branches, turning even mundane streets into picturesque locales. Above is the street I take everyday to get to my apartment.

The beginning of April also marks the start of the new school year in Japan, and with it comes club recruitment. Clubs are highly important in Japanese schools, often providing the main source of socialization during a student’s school years, and are especially central in Japanese colleges, where the work load is much smaller compared to previous levels of education. It’s not unusual to find students who devote much more of their time and effort to their club than to their scholastic pursuits, and consequently club recruitment is a large and important process. The variety of clubs offered is staggering, with options stretching from cheerleading to kendo to tennis to anime to basketball. When all are out making their pitch, you get some interesting mixes…

Club Recruitment 1, Kyoto, 4/1/2009

Cheerleading and cosplay, together at last.

Cheerleading and cosplay, together at last.

Club Recruitment 3, Kyoto, 4/1/2009

I recently went on a field trip to Eiga Mura, or Movie Village, with my translation class. Eiga Mura is a theme park devoted to Japanese movies, specifically period pieces chronicling the adventures of various samurai, geisha, and ninjas; essentially a Japanese Universal Studios. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it was pretty entertaining when I didn’t have to pay for it. We saw a new translation machine that some engineers are working on in conjunction with Eiga Mura. When you speak into the machine it checks a database based on information taken from the internet and returns an appropriate response. Or should. While I was impressed with it’s ability to handle set phrases and simple sentences, the machine has some big problems with consonants and longer phrases and words. When I tried saying “extraordinary” it translated it as an “l” with a period after it. Not quite. It also has no ability to handle slang, and accents are a challenge. For it’s purported objective (an aid for tourists) it’s probably sufficient, but anyone who wants to have an actual conversation is going to have to stick with learning the language for now.

I didn’t take too many pictures as our time was limited, but I had a pretty good time, and saw a rather entertaining show based on a  spell-casting warrior and his incompetent assistant versus and evil lord and his wife. It was as expected over-the-top and goofy, but done with such heart it’s impossible not to enjoy it. The sentai exhibit (sentai is basically a genre for masked fighters for justice) was a powerful blast of nostalgia for anyone who ever watched Power Rangers.

A few villains from the various series.

A few villains from the various series.

Every red ranger...

Every red ranger...

...ever. There was a couple dozen more after this too.

...ever. There was a couple dozen more after this too.

The best thing about these sorts of shows and the many others they inspired, from mecha shows to magical girl anime are the many hilarious lines they have about courage, including “The Earth doesn’t need your mechanization! What it needs is OUR BURNING COURAGE!”, “Have you forgotten, Mamoru? Victory goes to…THOSE WITH COURAGE!”, “If I’m the devil, then I’ll use hell’s ways to make you listen”, “I’ll make the impossible possible”, and “You don’t need probability when you’ve got guts!” Awesome.

Music I’m Listening to Now: “Herring Bone”, Department of Eagles