The first time I saw a construction worker in Japan it was in the early morning at the train station and I thought he’d had a rough night coming back from the club, not that he was wearing a work uniform. The picture to the left says it all. On his feet he wore split-toed cloth boots; in other words, ninja shoes. Who was this guy and why did he look so awesome? He was a tobi, a construction worker.
We have been entranced by this style ever since we saw it. To the Western eye, having excessively baggy pants and cloth, flat-soled shoes with no ankle support seems like a dangerous sacrifice of safety over style. However, there is, like everything in Japan, history and reason behind the madness. Continue reading
Since 2004, Richard Reynolds has been stealing out at night in London, gardening tools in hand, and reclaiming the city’s sidewalks, medians, and ditches into flowerbeds, vegetable patches, and orchards. At the same time Reynolds started a blog about his exploits, which eventually formed into the crossroads of an extant world-wide movement of guerrilla gardening. Last year he published a manifesto on gardening where you’re not supposed to. The self-defined guerrilla gardening movement has its roots in the histories of migrant workers and agrarian communists, yet the modern movement’s motives take it not towards the disruption of its society (as in the case of the Diggers—the agrarian communists), but the beautification of it. What defines this movement above other “guerrilla” movements is its vivacity, rhetoric of growth over upheaval, and above all, art. Continue reading
On Thursday, the Senate came to an agreement on an issue which had become unnecessarily partisan in the past four years: the state of American public service. I don’t know whether this signals a change in bipartisan communication in the Senate as a result of the Obama Administration’s motions towards including the Republican minority or more concrete evidence that the late economic unpleasantness is finally getting Democrats and Republicans to have a concerted dialogue. Continue reading
Yes, that’s right, there is a swirling vortex out there and it is definitely of doom. Currently making a massive galaxy-like rotation in the North Pacific is a vortex of trash somwhere between 700,000 km2 and 15 million km2, most of it plastic. Because of the intense confluence of ocean currents in the North Pacific, trash from all over the world is sucked into this central location. Continue reading
There were some stirrings in the news this week about Michelle Obama planting a vegetable garden in the White House grounds. According to the Huffington Post, she broke ground on it today. Arguing that the White House’s main ambition in gardening is a public stunt to illustrate their commitment to all things “green” is perhaps the first inclination of the critic, yet there is a whole lot more going on here. Continue reading
Filed under News, Politics
Homelessness in Japan looks a bit different. I remember our first night in Tokyo, walking around Shinjuku and seeing tidily maintained groups of elderly homeless men under a bridge, each with all of their belongings neatly stowed in plastic containers and lashed to push carts, ready to move. Each had a recent haircut and many had cats leashed to the carts. Just last month, Melissa and I came upon a shanty town underneath a bridge in Kyoto and it looked like a small city: each person had his own organized space, cabinets and drawers neatly converted to small rooms. They, too, had cats.
In February, Japanese fiction luminary Haruki Murakami traveled to Israel to accept the Jerusalem Prize. Murakami had doubts about accepting the award, which honors the freedom of the individual in society, for good reasons. Israel had recently launched its overpowered offensive on the Gaza strip; he rightly felt ambivalent about the implications of being the new literary son of Israel. Continue reading
The highest-ranking sumo wrestler in Japan, 330-pound Asashōryū Akinori,took to the runway at a fashion show in Tokyo for the Shibuya Girls Collection. Asashoryu, the Mongolian-born badboy of sumo, was dressed inexplicably in a boy’s school uniform as he strode down the runway.
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Sitting now in the empty staff room of my high school, I have just finished Bruce Chatwin’s On The Black Hill. I picked it up in a used foreign-language book store in Kyoto several weeks ago and have since then been consuming it reguarly with the same kind of avid attention one might give to a good cup of tea. I was able to soar through the final seventy-or-so pages that remained and I can say that On the Black Hill is one of the best works of fiction I have read in some time.
On Saturday, Melissa and I had the great fortune to attend a piano recital at the high school where she works. We don’t see live music as often as we would like to, and this opportunity, which had come to her unexpectedly, was one of those experiences that is enjoyed somehow sweeter for it comes out of the blue.