Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Fine and Happy New Year!

It's New Year's Eve and Tokyo is quiet as people have returned to their home towns to be with family. Tonight the country will be sitting in front of the TV watching Kohaku, the annual "Boys vs Girls" (boys in white, girls in red) sing off that has been running for, it would seem, ever. All the favourite singers and talento of the day join in an multi-hour extravaganza of a competition, wrapping up just before midnight as everyone switches over to watch the countdown on Jonny's Pop Show.

But there's an interesting aside for the name of Kohaku. The reason why the girls are in red and the boys are in white is that Kohaku is actually a stylised koi carp which is also red and white. Bred in the 1800's it's now featured in garden ponds the world over and each and everyone can be traced back to a gentleman by the name of Kunizo Hiroi who successfully mated the first pairing to an ornamental fish. But more impressively, single handedly invented the concept of an ornamental fish in its own right.

But as Kohaku closes, the camera will switch to a tolling bell, ringing in the New Year. And that's when everyone changes channel to the Jonny's party. A neighbour of mine, the lead guitar of a band  known as "New Dawn" used to hangout here and we'd have beers on the balcony. He was a really nice guy and I never really knew what he did or who the band were. Until I saw him closing the show as the countdown sounded. I asked him later about why a famous guy like himself would sit and drink a glass with me (of all people) and he said that as I didn't know who he was he just felt like a regular guy. And he liked that. Happy New Year.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Smile, it's a beautiful day

This happens to be my 500th post on TenguLife, and as such please indulge me a little. Allow me to recount a story from the closing days of December 1991, in the depths of downtown Tokyo, I was in a bar, long since fading into history, when the girl of my dreams walked through the door. And here I am today, all these years later, walking the sights of Tokyo, the two of us still holding hands. And it's a sunny day.

When we met she spoke no English and my Japanese was remarkably close to useless. Luckily her friend who was with her that evening had spent a couple of years in LA and helped us out at the beginning but after that, it was just her, me and a dictionary. Conversations were confusing, slow and difficult but we persevered, sometimes with hilarious consequences as we tripped over each others language and culture.

This was in the days before Google and the mobile phone, the two great facilitators of the modern era. Arranging a date via answer machine was almost always a hit and miss affair, you just had to repeat the time and place three times, hang up and hope. But slowly we figured it out, developing a language the two of us could understand but others, may be not. And now our son is leaving for university. You really can do anything you want to do in life. You just have to try and give it a go. Have a wonderful day.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming to Japan. Soon the daytime temperature in Tokyo will be hitting low single digits and already snow has fallen in the capital; though admittedly that was the earliest winter wonderland has arrived in nearly sixty years. And this means it's onsen season. Yey! It may sound a little strange to the uninitiated but one of the greatest pleasures in life is to laze in a tub of hot water with friends as the snowflakes falls around you. And Japan is very good at this.

These days there are four essential styles of onsen (hot spring) that are popular with the populace. The international tourist focussed ones tend to require swimsuits but the traditional pools are almost universally au natural as it were though modesty maintained with a handy modesty towel. The classical onsen are segregated allowing your time or relaxation, neck deep in piping hot water, with the guys or girls. Though it has to be said the chatter from the ladie's side tends to be a little (lot) louder than the men's. 

Konyoku, mixed bathing, is actually the traditional variety (it's not inappropriate to bathe, however it is inappropriate to look) but these largely disappeared following western influences over the last century though if you really search around they can still be found, hidden away. And the final version is known as kazokuburo, or family bath. Usually unfrequented by teenagers but younger families or the slightly older will enjoy time together chatting the night away. Japan is more relaxed about spending family time together, a little freaky for a westerner, but just wait for the snowflakes to fall. Winter is coming.