Monday, 26 August 2013

An ugly insight into summer holiday homework

First of all - a confession - I give summer holiday homework.
But - it's always in consultation with students about what they think will help them to retain and use English in the 7 week break.

I often hear complaints about summer holiday "busy work".  Charts to fill in checking that you got up before 7, participated in the town morning exercise each day, go to bed before 8.30 and other nonsense that the school has no business mandating.  Hiro's niece emailed the other day with help with her English  - the difference between something and anything - because they were having a test in the middle of the holidays. (Holiday doesn't translate well perhaps....)

This morning I got an urgent call from Hiro's cousin.  Her daugher in 4th grade hadn't finished the last part of her homework, due tomorrow and despite their best efforts was real struggling.  (I emphasize THEIR best effort and send out very belated thanks to my father for patiently doing innumerable Burke and Wills assignments while we were in primary school.)

The holiday homework was to ask foreigners how to say 5 simple phrases in their home language.  Good morning, Good afternoon, Thank you, Sorry and  Goodbye. (please might have been good to throw in... never mind it was already enough busy  work.)  So cousin in law's daughter had dutifully been to Nikko and hung about at the shrine (I assume with her parents) to harrass unsuspecting foreigners.   The UFs kindly wrote the words.  However, because daughter of cousin in law DoCIL is 10 years old or so, and because roman script isn't that familiar to her, let alone the diacrit heavy Polish, or Czech she couldn't rewrite them and couldn't work out the pronunciation.

Although Italian and Catalan are somewhat familiar, speaking English doesn't necessarily mean one can also read or speak  Czech, Dutch, or Polish  -   after all I come from the country where the highest mountain  Kosciuszko, named after Pole, was misspelt for most of its lifespan with that name, and the local pronunciation bares no resemblance at all to Polish.

Sadly, it was easier for me to transcribe it in Japanese myself  than explaining to them how to do it. eg English -> Polish translation dictionary to check spelling where the writing was unclear.
Google in Japanese  "Polish greetings pronunciation" etc etc etc   - 3 hours later.....

The last one she sent had me utterly flummoxed

ಬೆಳಿಗ್ಗೆ ಉತ್ತಮ

Fortunately they had written it was Indian, which meant it wasn't Thai or Cambodian or Burmese
Give thanks for Google translate.
Hindi  X  Marathi X  Urdu X  Bengali X  Gujurati X  Malayam - doesn't feature,  Tamil X
Telegu - maybe - must be from the south with such roundness to the form...
Kannada - YATTA!!!!   -
At least I am 95% sure so....

Having established it was Kannada, the language spoken in Bangalore / MySore area,  I  could muddle through with google translate - the Rosetta Stone of the contemporary age.

And I ask myself...

1) Is this reasonable homework for a 10 year old
2) Why on earth do parents tolerate such nonsense busy work....

The first is a no brainer; the second..... I have no idea.

You might be asking 3 ) Why on earth get sucked into this sort of nonsense busy work....

Simple answer, Hiro's CIL is very nice and very good natured and very close to Hiro... the summer holiday battle is not mine to fight.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Japanese dieting

The trains have recently been graced with posters for "lose 15kg in 2 months" advertisements. 
 They're aimed mostly, but not exclusively at women.   Walking the streets of Tokyo, one never really gets the impression that Tokyo is in the midst of an obesity crisis.  Let's take a look at some statistics to give some substance to the anecdotal impression of a lack fatness here.

To give some comparative context, the graph below comes from the Washington Post. In Japan 3.9 percent of women are obese (defined as BMI above 30) compared with 34.3% of women in the US. More than 20 percent of young Japanese women are underweight.  Since 1984, Japanese women, at least the women in the 20-50  age bracket, have been getting thinner.

Washington Post article on falling Japanese BMI (1)

Japan has never lost its Prussian army zeal for measuring the masses. Most Japanese have an annual health check that monitors vital statistics such as height and weight, iron levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. Somehow the Ministry of Health Welfare and Labour comes up with a  population sample of vital statistics . (2) The average woman above 20 in Japan is  52.9kg

This means that if an average woman lost 15kg, as per the advertisement,  she would be 37.9 kg... The average weight of an 11.5 year old in Japan...

I won't insult your intelligence by going on a rant about this...



Saturday, 24 August 2013

Mannequins on high

I passed this mannequin perched above a restaurant in Nishi Shinjuku near the PO the other day. I can't explain their popularity, but it's not that strange to see them.

Above a noodle shop in Itabashi.
For a run down on some of the famous mannequins of Tokyo's east side see Rurousha's blog -

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

More revisiting and on to Kessennuma

From Yonesaki we followed route 45 towards Kessennuma, passing by the home of an elderly couple where I worked as a volunteer in 2011.  In 2011 there was a lot of heavy debris - a lot of concrete, bitumen from the roads that were washed away and a lot of glass.  Apparently many cars turned over here on as they were swept away.   When we were up there before the old man was telling how he used to have a very good vegetable patch.  There didn't seem to be much in the way of a vegetable patch, though there were quite a lot of sunflowers.  I tossed up whether to stop and see how they were,  but with the lack of an omiyage and not very much time, I hesitated to do so.  Living in such a prominent spot, they probably get stickybeaks (like me) passing through regularly. I doubt this will be rezoned for housing, but they seemed to be doing OK.
2013 August

2011 Sept

2011 Sept

Sept 2011

Sept 2011

Same spot Aug 2013
Going towards Kessennuma.   There is reportedly quite a bit of tension in
 between the residents whose houses remain and those who are living in
temporary housing units.  Those in temp. housing get much more assistance.
I imagine people living on the high ground would have been saying for years
that the town on the flats was madness.  At the same time, the people on the flat
lands probably would have lived on the hills had they been able to...
I can imagine resentment goes both ways.
High ground
The flats - tsunami ravaged.
The famous boat of Kessennuma.  There has just been a vote taken in Kessenuma and more than 60% of people want the boat removed.  
If you look to the left of the front car, you can see an pile of flowers / shrine for Obon.
Kessennuma seemed to have more fishing port & boats.  RT
had next to nothing remaining - other than the oyster beds that have been
replanted - oysters that people are unlikely to want to buy with TEPCO leaking
radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean.
A service station in Kessennuma by the water.
The clock has been left as a memorial of the time at which
the power was cut after the earthquake.
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Monday, 19 August 2013

Revisiting Rizuken takada

I endeavoured to seek out some of the places where I had been in Sept 2011. Below is a factory where we spent a day scrubbing rust from metal brackets, for a not particularly clear purpose.  There were no walls there when we worked there. See  It now seems to be a nama-kon (fresh concrete) factory.  Concrete is be a boom product in the race to rebuild tsunami walls etc. It's pretty political as construction companies historically have a thick money trail that leads to politicians, and sometimes the underworld with a lot of corrupt dealing. (Think TEPCO and Fukushima.)
The pictures further are going around the bay to Hirota peninsula. I didn't have a very good sense of  where we had volunteered without reference to a map (the one on my phone was too small to make out clearly) so we didn't go to Hirota-cho or Otomo-cho where I'd been in 2011.

View Rikutaka in a larger map

This is the factory on the map
Looking towards the inland from the factory
Looking out into the bay at the oyster beds
The view from the high land at the opening to the Hirota peninsula.  These homes would have been above the tsunami level.
New homes being built.  I imagine this would be out of tsunami area
what to do with the water's edge is a big dilemma in some places.
Looking out on the bay. Hirota Peninsua on the left, the factory on the right.
We didn't venture far down the peninusula & didn't go to the Otomocho school
or the Hirota cho area where we did volunteer work - picking out and picking up debris.
Back towards the former centre of the town.
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Returning to Rikuzen Takata

We took a maaaaaaaaaaaaaaajor detour on the way back, leaving the expressway at the Kamaishi turn off and ventured to the coast.  In hindsight we probably should have gone to Kamaishi and gone south, but I wanted to take a look at Rikuzen Takata and go to the coast on the road that I took in the week that I was volunteering up there. (There is a long series of posts about that here. )

I might be being unfair, since we only cruised through, but I didn't feel any hope or vibrancy.  It seems the town has  made a decision to raise the height of the land and rebuilt the city centre.  According to the city mayor, the city will have a 12 meter sea wall.  It seems like madness.  The beauty of the area is nature.  It seems far more prudent to rebuild the town behind the hills and having clear, well thought out evacuation paths for the businesses that want to be or need to be along the coast.
A positive RT story:
Area flattened by the tsunami
This apartment building was one of two buildings remaining standing.
Constuction in progress
A few ruins remain
Looking out to the bay
Looking inland
No entry -  it appears that the height of the land is being raised by a  number of metres.
Obvious signs of  revitalization were very few and far between.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Obon: cemetery visits

Mid August is Obon (mid July in Tokyo which for some reason still uses the old calendar), the major grave visiting season, the season when deceased ancestors, relatives, return to earth. This year there were visits to 6 cemeteries... one up on last year, though I couldn't quite work out why a relative who has been dead for several years made it onto the grave visiting list for the first time this year. It's one of those questions that won't come with a satisfactory answer so I didn't ask.
Grave visiting is a whole different kettle of fish compared with grave visits in Australia.  To begin with, there are mandated grave visiting seasons -  Obon in August and O-higan - at the autumn and spring equinox.  Also, visiting graves means taking flowers and food offerings.  It's greedy of me, but I can't help thing "what a waste" to see good peaches etc cut up as offerings for the crows.  In Hiro's part of the world the food offering is an elaborate bento, often a cup of tea or can of coffee, sometimes a small bottle of beer or sake.   Because Confucianism and Buddhism brought patriarchy to Japan, the duties are to look after the grave of the family whose name you bear.  So Hiro's mother's task is to look after Hiro's father's relatives.  It doesn't seem quite reasonable...  The biggest difference, at least in the countryside, is that grave tending is an important task which means there should be a grave tender in close proximity.  It can create a lot of pressure for people not to move away, even if staying means losing education and employment chances.  It's a topic close to home and I'll leave it at that.

Jizo outside the cemetry - I didn't notice last year, but there are only three there -
jizos like this almost always come in sixes. (and the one in the middle looks like it's pretending to be
a jizo.  I asked Hiro's mother why, and why there were three
not six... she thought for a moment..."nandarou" - I wonder why.   And
said perhaps the other 3 hadn't been born yet.  It's answer that could come from
Alice in Wonderland. She was being neither sarcastic nor dismissive....
but it wasn't the answer I was looking for.... Sometimes it feels 
like urbanite with no attunement to natural surrounds meets hunter
gathers with no attunement to consistent, logical explanations....
The jizo  have been given offerings by people visiting graves.

You don't see this decoration in Odate - it seems a tradition of the more remote
mountain parts of  Kita Akita City.
I liked the summer spirit of the cucumber and eggplant offering.
Colourful food offering decorations

Colourful food offering decorations

Hiro's mother brings her own grave washing bucket
and bag of incense and candles
Grave tending duties are a major responsibility for
the wife of the oldest son - traditionally.