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
During rush hour in Tokyo, if you’re not willing to push your way onto the train, some one else will do it for you. The oshiya, metro workers paid to push people from the platform into the train cars, bare the burden of rush hour rudeness. This system began in the 1970s as commuting trends in Tokyo grew more rapidly than the frequency of running trains. Now perhaps non-existent in Tokyo proper, oshiya can be found in the suburbs in the morning pushing “salarymen” onto inbound trains to downtown Tokyo. Continue reading
Taking advantage of the hilly terrain in Okayama, Japan, the Washuzan Highland amusement park makes its guests work a little harder for their fun. The Skycycle is a pedal powered roller coaster which runs up, down, and around an Okayama hillside and, like traditional roller coasters, has sections that appear genuinely exciting. The Skycycle’s carts seat two people cycling in tandem on a guide rail. Each cart is equipped with a handlebar, seat-belts, and a little pink basket in front. Continue reading
Legally, there’s often quite a lot wrong with public nudity and the consequences are extremely high if you are a public figure, a member of a popular boy-band (SMAP is like N’Sync circa ’98, we’re talking pop-u-lar), and live in Japan. Last weekend Tsuyoshi Kusanagi scored three for three when police found him loud, drunk, and nude in a Tokyo park. His reported defense at the scene: “There’s nothing wrong with being naked.” For once I found myself agreeing with Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara who felt there was no need to blow this incident out of proportion. However, what is phenomenal is that the Japanese public insists on it. Continue reading
Filed under Japan, Music, News
In the women’s dressing room, a concerted kimono effort was taking place. As if my entrance had startled a flock of birds, layers of kimono flapped in the air and floated down around the necks of my fellow koto players. Two helpers per woman kept the wings up while the wearers’ arms slipped in, the fabric was wrapped and tied, and a third helper stood on a stool behind, up-sweeping the hair in a fashion that screamed prom. Butterfly clips and sparkling feathers adorned the sides of these up-dos. Here, it wasn’t kitschy, it wasn’t tacky. These women, ages 17 to 60, looked elegant in kimono passed down from their grandmothers who wore them the exact same way. Continue reading
On the Boy Scout Trail, in the Redwood National Forest, 12 miles from coastal Crescent City, California, and 27 from the Oregon border, an informational sign at the 6 meter wide base of a fallen tree explains that the Redwoods are gregarious trees. Their shallow root system, relative to their massive hundred meter heights, requires them to live in groves. Their long roots grow shallow but reach out to neighboring roots, wrapping and coiling, and eventually growing together in order to support the upright weight of a community of trees which average 600 years old. In May, when Emmett and I crossed the country to meet these trees, I imagined them holding hands underground, fully aware of their reliance on each other.
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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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.