風になりたい! Kaze ni naritai! 

A look at life in Japan through big, round, gaijin eyes. Relfections on life in Japan, America, from the faceless streets of Tokyo. Let's blogging!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Olympics

Despite the fact that Japan has yet to capture a medal in the Torino Olympics, media coverage here is still just as overblown as in the rest of the world. I think it's just a little more annoying.

From the over-playing of the 平原綾香 (Ayaka Hirahara) theme song 「誓い] ("Vow"), to the fact that pretty much only events where Japanese athletes are competing are shown, I am already sick of watching Torino. It's fair enough that the announcers and coverage are biased toward the Japanese, I suppose, but they are just so bad. For instance, do I really need this guy obnoxiously screaming over and over that someone's "dream has been crushed" when they drop to fourth place in the standings? Combine that with a loop of replays of the dissapointed athlete's face, and the same call being repeated over and over again with the replays (don't they know they don't have to replay the audio with the video?), I'm almost rooting for someone to actually win something. But again, if a Japanese athlete captured even a bronze, that person would be on TV constantly for the next 4 years, until they became a celebrity analyst for the next Olympics. (And most people who spend 60 hours a week training for the 500m long track speed skate are not really that well equipped to handle themselves on TV--and God forbid this country have more no-talent タレント--"tarento"--entertainers.)

Say what you will about the way America over does the cream-puff stories, or has the crappy "plausibly live" coverage when everyone always knows the results-- but at least they acknowledge the competitors from other countries. Also, call it the jadedness or skewed expectations of the American audience, but an American missing (or winning, for that matter) a medal does not get treated like front-page news. Which is exactly what the misses of Japanese speed-skaters and snowboarders have been all week.

On the other hand, at least these are sports nobody here cares about. Lord only knows what they will do with the World Baseball Classic (tickets to first round games in Japan are more expensive than tickets to the final) and World Cup in Germany this summer.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Okinawa (Part 1)

Juri is off to Okinawa with a friend today. Which reminds me, we went to Okinawa in December. Sorry, forgot to mention it.

Okinawa is situated in the Ryukyu Archipelago, south of the main islands of Japan, and was an independent kingdom before becoming part of Japan. Home to a large US military presence since the US invaded and captured the main island in the waning days of WWII in 1945, in many ways, the main cities of Naha and Nago could almost be American Beach towns. Undeniably, the vivid, yet relaxed atmosphere of the islands belies their tragic wartime history, as well as the sombre organized chaos of the rest of Japan. Certainly Okinawa offers the sort of cultural crossroads that is sorely missing from most of Japan--a place where Japan meets America (or at least the military) meets mainland Asia, meets a unique island culture. In other words, Okinawa is like Hawaii but on a smaller scale.

Culturally, Okinawa has had a great influence on the rest of Japan, and the world. Okinawan cultural exports include karate and many contributions to Japanese music, such as the 三線(sanshin), a banjo-like three-stringed, snake-skin covered instrument that is the precursor to the Northern Japanese 三味線 (shamisen). Currently, a boom of j-pop/hip hop stars, spearheaded by the rock-rap group Orange Range, have crossed over to the Japanese mainland. Blessed with a tropical climate, and free from some of the smothering social constraints of Japan, it's only natural that Okinawans are responsible for some amazing, unique art, music, and culinary creations.
Naha, the capital of Okinawa
We started our tour in Naha, on the southern part of the main island, visiting the reconstructed castle, Shuri-jo, that was the seat of power for the kings of the Ryukyu kingdom for hundreds of years. Like many of the castles and historical sites in Okinawa, Shuri-jo was used by the Japanese forces during the war, and was bombarded and nearly completely destroyed by the US during the Battle of Okinawa. However, since 1992 it has been painstakingly reconstructed, and in 2000 was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the youth of the castle, or gusuru, as it is called in the native language, lacked the "weight" of antiquity that one feels in Kyoto or other mainland-Japanese historical sites, it was still beautiful and captivating. Despite the fact that the gates looked freshly painted, the respectful and thoughtful way that the reconstruction has taken place and the site was presented contrasted with the almost take-it-for-granted way that traditional Japanese sites are preserved. Of course, maybe that is why many beautiful historical sites on Honshu can't get World Heritage status despite the lobbying of the Japanese government.

Another highlight of Naha were the markets of 国際通り (International Street), the main avenue running downtown. Of course, it still is a Japanese city, and a tourist destination to boot, so お土産や (souveneir shops) were by far the most prevalent form of store. However, in between the places hawking overpriced "local" goods (authentic Okinawan Taco-rice! 黒糖 black-sugar anything!), everything from fresh tropical fruits to dried haba (a extremely poisonous indigenous snake) to pickled pigs' feet (an Okinawan delicacy) was available at much cheaper prices than you would find in mainland Japan. In one fish-market most varied selection of fresh seafood I've seen outside of Tsukiji market was offered for you to choose and eat on the premises; you took your purchase to the adjoining cafeteria and watched as the staff prepared your meal before your eyes.

Naha had a grittiness and a flavor that was different from every other city I have been to in Japan, yet charmingly lacked the polish of, say, Waikiki. I would like to get back there sometime before my tenure here in Japan runs up- if only for special grapefruit-sized サーターアンダギー (sata andagi) donuts!

(To be continued..)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Flu

Last week I came down with good ol' influenza. While it was good for a couple days off from work (and allowed me to watch my Steelers win the Super Bowl on a live satellite broadcast) having a fever of 103.8 is pretty crappy. Especially when you find that out after walking to the hospital in the rain, in the middle of the winter. Anyway, it's not really conducive to blogging.

While I've been busy cooking my brain, I have had a chance to do a lot of reading, for a pleasant change. Here's something that one of my coworkers sent me that isn't really akin to the way I think about Japan at all, but holds enough truth in it that I thought it was worth sharing: CLICK-O!

Something to think about the next time you hear the word "ganbatte!" (which incidentally doesn't necessarily mean "cheer up!" though nowadays it is similar in usage; it's probably closer to "do your best!")