Thursday, January 16, 2020

Blindfold - A 'Coming of Age Day' Tale

This one was a little hard to write. There is a beauty to the second Monday of January each year in Japan; it represents the single moment the youth of a nation celebrate their twentieth birthday together; it's the day they Come of Age. From now on (admittedly in theory only) they can drink, sign a contract (and be prosecuted) uninhibited. The women wear beautiful furisode (the ornate, long sleeved kimono worn, traditionally, prior to marrying) and the "guys" opt for a simple black business suit (though, it has to be said, they look a little less comfortable in their new attire than the young woman in theirs). 

Centered around the local community halls across the country, Shibuya Line Cube (which, although recently redeveloped, happens to be the venue for U2's first concert in Japan in 1983 (and you thought you weren't going to learn something this time around)) is a few minutes walk from the main train station, one of the busiest in the world . The day is a wonderful sight to see with the beauty and grace of the young women assembled, for this, their special day; and the young men with their "swagger and poise" laughing with their friends prior to the hall doors opening. This time though, I saw something new to me.

As I stood with crowds, enjoying watching as the new young adults arrived, an unassuming taxi pulled up. A mother stepped from the front passenger seat and walked around to the open rear door, and a grey guide cane emerged from inside. And then a young man, in a light checked suit, the pants an inch short of reaching his white sneakers, and necktie not quite straight, gently emerged. The impression was of someone who had chosen his own outfit and prepared at home for today's ceremony quite deliberately by himself. For me, the most awe-inspiringly beautiful sight of those few moments was the look of slightly understated hidden pride of the young, blind man's parents as he steadily joined his peers amongst the melee and celebrated his "Coming of Age Day".




Friday, December 6, 2019

U2 and a Metamorphosis of Japan

I witnessed something special last night and, for this, it's worth emerging from self-imposed hibernation (though winter is coming (sorry, just had to do that) and as for daylight, there may only be a brief encounter (I am on fire!)). So what happened. Well, it all started around 5.30AM when my friends daughter fell ill (hopefully she'll be up and running in no time) and, as a result, I inherited a ticket to see U2 at Saitama Super Arena, some forty-five minutes from central Tokyo (which is actually less time than it takes to arrive at the Tokyo Dome which is curiously within a healthy walking distance). 

Twenty-five years have elapsed since I last saw U2 in Japan (actually, at said Tokyo Dome) and, having heard from everyone (and his dog) in those days, that they were the best live band in the world (and remembering this was pre-LiveAid when they became global superstars in a single twenty minute set) I was somewhat deflated as the show lasted a little shy of what seemed like and hour and a half and the band walked off during a video of Lou Reed singing "Satellite of Love" never to be seen again. No encore or "good night". Twenty-five years later and some two and a half hours later, the memory of 1994 had been erased by one of the greatest live shows on earth. 

But that isn't the reason I've arisen from my winter slumber. The reason is the audience. In 1994 Bono couldn't connect with the crowd. Each time he'd reach out there would be a distinct turning of heads to the person adjacent and whispering of "nani?" colloquially translated as "what's he talking about?" And then, in part, cometh the internet, Instagram, Social Media, Line and etc. Flash forward to December 2019 and not only were the band on fire, but so was the stadium. And it wasn't just the smartphone lights and the non-stop deafening audible backing track, it was the reaction and response to a great frontman, drummer, sonic engineer (if you haven't yet, watch "It Might Get Loud") and bassist, leading them on. Every single person reacted and responded. And that didn't happen in 1994. Last night I saw how far Japan has changed in the span of twenty-five years. And wow, has it changed.




Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Let's not say goodbye, just bon appetit

Classic words from "Only Fools and Horses". After 600+ articles (of which ~30 remain unpublished as I didn't really feel they were complete), it's time (the Walrus said) to take a break. I hope I've brought some insight and some enjoyment about life in Japan to these pages. And I hope I've peeked (peaked?) your interest.

TenguLife out. For now...

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Back in the day, thirty years from now...

In Japan, generally speaking (very generally...) there are three groups of expats. There's a large group under two to three years on the ground as their companies have rotated them in and soon will rotate them back out again. And then there's the group over ten years here, these have pretty much made the decision to stay a significant element of their lives, though they may not have come to terms with this as yet. And then there's the pipeline between the two; those who haven't realized permanent residency is quietly creeping up on them.

Each of the individual identities have a series of bragging rights, the newer often about how wonderfully incoherent Japan can be through to the long stay "do you remember what it was like in the old days?". And the old days were interesting, a life without Facebook, Instagram or, more importantly as it were, internet of any kind. These days if you invite someone to an event they can just follow their phones, bak in the day for us it was a wing and a prayer. A map, via a fax machine (if you had one), strays and orphans. And yes, we'd take them in if they were really lost.

And then there's the "how did you first arrive". Only recently before I'd flown to the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time (in late 1991) had Russia opened it's airspace. I flew direct but not too long before that I'd have had the choice; freeze overnight in Anchorage, or develop a hangover in Hong Kong. A decade earlier had been so sensitive the Russians shot down a passenger liner (Korean Air 007) after it strayed of course and over Soviet territory (actually leading to the civilian release of GPS, as an aside). But as we were swapping stories we found another group smiling like Cheshire Cats. They'd arrived when Narita was still a rice field.

If we had postcards and fax machines back then, I wonder what it'll be like thirty years from now...






Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ten Months and Nineteen Days

Between September 20, 2019 and August 9, 2020, a mere ten months and nineteen days, Japan will host two of the greatest sporting events there are to be held upon this small blue planet. The Rugby World Cup will initiate celebrations inside The Ajinomoto Stadium in western (far western) Tokyo, though for the tour of the tournament it will be labeled, somewhat confusingly, The Tokyo Stadium. The opening match between Japan and Russia is being held here as the new National Stadium, under construction for an eternity, will not be complete. By a matter of a few weeks. Go figure...

Japan is slowly becoming conscious of the events to come. However the excitement is unlikely to build until a few weeks prior to the starting whistle though this fall we can look forward to moments of glory the likes of which are rarely seen. Snap shots in time such as Jonah Lomu inventing the Maori Side Step through, and over, a hapless Mike Catt in 1995, or Jonny Wilkinson snatching victory in the final seconds of 2003. Off the wrong foot!. (Spoiler alert, I was in stadium for that one). But the greatest for this host country would be Japan risking all and going for victory as they did so incredibly in 2015 (the South African fans subsequently gave up their seats on the train back to London for the Japanese fans; respect is all in rugby). 

It's been a while since we've enjoyed a major, global event in Japan. FIFA World Cup in 2002 was really the last one, some seventeen years ago. Awesome in its own right, we saw a media panic in advance of the invasion of the Mongol Hordes (metaphorically speaking and my apologies to my Mongol readers!) and the British Hooligans (for who, the local police kindly developed extra large handcuffs). The invasion though was called off due to high ticket prices and the cost of air transport in those days, somewhat out of the pocket range of your average hooligan. But in closing days of September 2019, Let the Games Begin!

PS: Invictus. I once asked Jonah (whom I had the privilege to get to know) if Nelson Mandela did actually say "you frighten me a little bit" as in the movie. He smiled but didn't answer. 






Sunday, February 10, 2019

A culinary tale in Tokyo

Everyone needs a hobby. Mine happens to be writing obscure articles in a blog about Japan and a little bit of photography (can't do landscapes but passable at available light portrait pics). But interests  often lie in many directions and one that always caught my fancy was the engineering of the fountain pen. I own many, use many less, but am always fascinated by the flow of the ink, barrel to tip. But this isn't about fountains pens, another of my interests is the engineering of the humble folding knife.

Strangely, the Rambo style blade, the Crocodile Dundee "that's not a knife, this is a knife..." never really interested me, though the creation of the blade is certainly a matter of art meets steel and science. No, it was the beauty of the elegant folding knife that caught the imagination and led to the creation of something of an ensemble in the attic (actually the study, but "attic" somehow resonates more effectively (actually, I don't have an attic at all if you were wondering)). In particular, the liner lock, a solution to deploying and retiring a blade with a single hand.

And one of the finest in my (remarkably) small collection is an example by the Oregon company of Al Mar. Al Mar, an Asian Special Forces veteran who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, also had an interest in design that he eventually brought to life. Recognizing the importance of both handling and usage, he designed blades with the thought of tactical usage in mind. And when he went to market, he took the manufacturing to the city of Seki in central Japan  (a little north of Nagoya, a little east of Kyoto) where some of the finest steel implements of Japan are created. And if you visit, yes, it has a Bladed Hall of Fame if you were wondering. When Al Mar sourced, he chose from those up there with the best of the best in the world.




Wednesday, January 30, 2019

And then there were 600

And then there were six hundred. A little over five years ago I started to write TenguLife for fun and quickly it somewhat took over my very existence. Of course in those days it was launched as "ButWhyThe BeginnersGuidetoJapan.blogger.com". With not that many people able to type it all in without making an error of one form or another. And so it was transformed to TenguLife and has lived as such ever since. And the purpose has remained the same from the origin; to introduce Japan to non-Japanese nationals. However then Japan started to read it too. In fact these days Japanese readership is the second only to American.

The articles have touched on the vacations of John Lennon in Japan, life and death, how to make a bullet train nose cone, how Japan nearly sold Buddha, a mystical mining disaster and most recently, the British rock band, Queen, performing in Japanese. I've carefully created each one from my own simple perspective, as far as humanly possible fact checking to provide an accurate though interesting background to the country. And it's achieved my original objective. It's been fun to write.

So if you have a question about Japan, are confused by a base-four counting system, wonder why katakana is a phonetic mirror of hiragana or are wondering what is the deadliest beast in the country, feel free to ping me. If you're reading this on a mobile you can reach me at jonathan@tengulife.com and if you're on a  computer you can see the contact information in glorious technicolor. Six hundred, not bad for a hobby...