Dokodemo Door!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them

And I, for one, welcome our new Pyongyang overlords.

Having taken 3 months of Korean 101, I'd just like to remind them that I can be helpful in rounding-up others to toil in their underground kimchi caves.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The joys of living in a hot-zone

As you can tell, the pharmacies are fresh out of face masks.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Visit to Himeji

Back on March 4th I had a day-off and decided to use the opportunity to visit the city of Himeji, which is less than an hour to the west. Himeji's big draw? White Heron castle, almost universally considered to be the finest example of a feudal Japanese castle.

(Sadly, my cell-phone camera isn't the best at photographing things at a distance and it was a little overcast that afternoon so this picture doesn't give it justice.)

To really appreciate it, one must first understand that Himeji is one of the small number of original castles which are still standing in Japan. For their sheer size and bulk, Osaka castle and Nagoya castle have Himeji outclassed. Alas, they're modern replicas made of concrete, complete with elevators.

Castles in Japan have undergone two waves of destruction over the past two centuries. The first took place after the Meiji Restoration in which relics of the feudal infrastructure were dismantled. (A number of locales, Himeji among them, managed to evade this by designating their castle grounds as public exhibition centers.) And, as you might expect, further destruction took place as a result of bombing in the 1940s. The wooden donjon of Hiroshima castle, for instance, didn't react well to Little Boy.

One must also appreciate the difference between pre- and post-Tokugawa-era castles. Without going into pedantic detail, pre-Tokugawa castles (built before the early 1600s) were military fortifications but the design of post-Tokugawa castles were tightly-regulated by the Shogun and were largely built to be symbols of state power. As a result, post-Tokugawa castles are quite ornate and were the site at which local governance took place. You can get a sense of the aesthetic value from this shot taken under the eaves. You can also see the gun-ports, not that they were ever actually used:
The frame of the donjon is made of wood and weighs about a hundred tons. Due to the lack of decent illumination inside, I couldn't get many pictures of the interior. But, needless to say, one must remove one's shoes when walking-around and the stairways were extremely narrow. The number of people allowed inside was kept small. I was in line for about 90 minutes before I got to the top. Here's the view looking to the west:
The long building housed servant's quarters and, for a while in the 1600s, the daughter of one of the daimyo. Elsewhere on the grounds is a quiet building in which one could carry-out ritual suicide.

It's hard to believe that this place is a mere 40 minutes away.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

OMFG!!! Swine flu!!111!!

As it turns-out, Japan's first case of non-airport-related swine flu has struck.

And, wouldn't you know it, it took place in Kobe.

What are the odds?

So, while I was in a Korean eatery trying to enjoy a bit of samgyeopsal, I got a phone call informing me that class has been called-off for the next week.

Really, now?

That's an interesting thing. What ever will I do?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The shortest book in the world...

...would be entitled "The Complete Guide to Grassy Neighborhood Parks in Japan."

I saw the park down the block from where I live.

Imagine a tennis court-sized parcel of caked earth surrounding a slide with a few tufts of grass jutting-up.


If only there weren't so many mountains here...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A proper inoshishi picture-- finally!

Yesterday, I took a day-trip out to see Himeji castle (I'll make a post on that shortly) and in mid-afternoon, I came back home. Down in the stream which separates the railway station from my neighborhood, I spotted this fellow:

Apart from garbage there's not much down there for a boar to eat, I'm afraid. I'd earlier walked-by a bunch of kids from the local high school's archery team carrying their bows under their arms; I was wondering why they hadn't used it for target practice.

I continued walking home and a few minutes away from the apartment, I heard chanting and drumming. I turned a corner and ran straight into the neighborhood shrine's danjiri procession.

There were about six or seven people inside the cart banging-away on bells and drums, with five people on top swishing paper streamers on wands (I think they're called Ōnusa, but I might be wrong on that). The guys on top are tied there with ropes so they won't fall-off.

My only reaction was: "Oh yeah. They were planning to do that today, weren't they?"

Friday, May 1, 2009

Taiwan to re-join WHO: 'Bout Time

This might not've made much of a headline in the US, but it was recently reported that Taiwan will probably start re-engaging with the World Health Organization next month. It sounds dull, but there's quite a backstory.

If you recall the SARS outbreaks in 2002 and 2003, the WHO played a critical role in coordinating plans across national boundaries and sharing information between international laboratories. They deserve a lot of credit for the fact that SARS didn't spiral completely out of control. Distressingly, Taiwan was located right next door to the epicenter of the outbreak and had hundreds of cases. But since 1972, when the People's Republic took-over Taiwan's seat at the UN, Taiwan's liason with the WHO ended. Ever since, mainland China was stuck in its hare-brained, counterproductive habit of opposing any kind of contact between Taiwan and the UN. Until now, it seems.

I don't have much information on the decision-making for this (it might've been in the works for a long time) but the timing is notable: Perhaps the Foreign Ministry in Beijing decided that this kind of moronic stance wasn't helpful in the face of an emerging swine flu pandemic. During the SARS outbreak, opposing WHO membership was a huge gift to those who clamored the loudest for Taiwanese independence.

Another factor is that Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has been actively amenable to promoting better relations with Beijing, as illustrated by the start of direct flights between the two countries last summer and a major investment pact signed a few days ago. Taiwan's WHO membership should really be a no-brainer at this point.

So maybe this isn't the kind of news that captures people's attention in the US, but it's a significant thing to take notice of.