Batten The Hatches!

UPDATE: Krovanh veered to the east and passed us off shore, so all we got were some 20 mph winds and moderate amounts of rain.

Good thing we have a tight waterproof cover on Bluesette and that she and the sendai she sits on are tied down to eye bolts in the ground. Krovanh is coming.

TS Krovanh's position as of 10:00 AM Japan time today (Monday). Image from Japan Meteorological Agency

Korvanh is a Tropical Storm heading right for us. Already Tokyo International Airport at Narita (just 20 miles from us) is reporting winds of 50 kph with peak gusts of 70 kph (30 mph and 44 mph respectively). The center will pass over us around 21:00 tonight.

The good news is, the storm is not intensifying to Typhoon levels. However, it was a storm of similar intensity that wrecked an iron ore freighter right off Kashima Port in 2006 with loss of ten lives, grounded another ship, sank a 98 ton fishing vessel to our north with loss of all 16 hands, and capsized a pleasure fishing boat near Tokyo. So this is nothing to trifle with.


Cool As A Jewel

I'm beginning to like this doggy beauty salon thing. Today was my third trip and I had a nice bath and real short summer cut. I relaxed this time, since I now know that my beautician knows what she is doing. It felt good!

This time I got my leg fur cut shorter too, so I really am as "cool as a jewel" for the rest of summer.

Oh, I got a kerchief with a flower pattern too, and the beautician gave me a special treat for later - chicken breast. Yum!


A Phone By Any Other Cover

K recently bought a new cell phone. It's waterproof, just in case she needs to call for help from an overturned sailboat. (So much for having confidence in Bluesette's skipper!)

I don't own a cell phone, which makes me a very rare Panda bear in Japan. I had one for many years before I came to Japan, but now I find them more of a nuisance than a convenience. I don't need one, anymore than I need a TV or a car, thank you very much.

The R&D for cell phones obviously does not go into making phone calls better or easier or less costly, but rather into developing new income streams for service providers - video, internet, music, mapping, games, porn, market news, television, weather, taking pictures, ad nauseam. All of which come at a premium, of course.

This has worked against what one might hope that these little techno-baubles would do - bring people together; you know, "reach out and touch someone", make children more safe. Au contraire mon frere. (That's little double entendre joke for the Japan audience since "Au" is one of the major cell phone service providers here.)

Everywhere one goes people are living their lives on line and on their cell phones - not talking on them, but playing games, surfing the net, and so on - anything to avoid having to look or (gasp!) say anything to another actual human being. Even kids on bicycles are engrossed with their phone when they should be watching the road and traffic around them.

Now there is another level - layer if you will - of expense to these devices, but it is one of which I highly approve (since I don't have to pay for it). It is custom iPhone covers done in Japanese lacquerware designs, including a sprinkling of gold dust on them. Wow. I'd love to have one if anyone is looking for gift ideas. No phone, just the cover. And at about $1,000 each they are such a modest "investment"...

Photo from an article in the LA Times online edition: The Ultimate iPhone case

"Each case -- which takes nearly a month to produce -- comes with a soft pouch and a booklet that puts the design in a historic context".

I wonder how they will someday describe cell phone culture itself in a "historic context"?

Step Out Of The Car And Drop That Pin!

On our way to lake Hinuma Monday morning we were stopped by the latest in Japanese law enforcement. Forget "Robocop". Always at the cutting edge of technology, Japan has a light weight, quickly deployable alternative that is much cheaper, more mobile, and very effective (providing you have a compliant citizenry). It's "Inflato-Cop"!

Well, actually there were two of these next to a Mobil gasoline station. They are effective - if only in catching one's attention and eliciting a laugh. Obviously, the location has a visibility problem and so has invested in numerous signs, flashing lights, and even "Inflato-Cops" to garner what business they can.


Fast Trains, Slow Life, and an Old Indian

Last Saturday I took the train to Hinuma to work on Bluesette. K had driven up to Mito City to attend an English language lecture about the Ukraine and would join me later for lunch. While on the train, I noticed a hand bill about a model railroad event that was underway. It was being held at the Keisei department store in Mito City. The last day would be Tuesday.

Sunday, we went sailing, just beating the heavy weather that was on the way with Tropical Storm Etau, which at the time was causing a great deal of flooding and several deaths in Hyogo Prefecture just west of Kyoto and Osaka prefectures. (A passing shower did soak us, just as were pulling the boat out of the water). Luckily for us, when Monday came, the storm headed south of the Boso Peninsula and we just experienced the rains on the norther edge of Etau. Tuesday, the weather was actually very nice, so K drove us up to Mito for this 'kid' to see the model trains.

Keisei has a large room on their 7th floor which is used for special events like this. There was a section for the plastic train layouts for younger kids to check, out some small "N" gauge layouts, several larger model trains of famous Japanese lines, handmade models of steam locomotives, and a huge N gauge layout in the midst of it all.

At ¥304,500 ($3,150) this handmade N-gauge steam locomotive engine - one of many on display - is obviously intended for crazy dedicated railroad hobbyists only.

The main layout goes from rural mountains at one end, to a modern city at the other.

At the rural end of the layout there is a castle, farms, and a lake. (click picture to enlarge)

There was a video simulator so kids could see what it is like to drive a train and official JR coats and hats for them to try on. A long counter displayed individual cars as well as complete sets of N-gauge and larger HO gauge trains along with kits for making buildings.

K seemed both surprised and relieved that I didn't buy anything. A long time ago I had an N-gauge layout which I built in a walk-in closet. These days, I have enough hobbies and so neither the time or space to add model railroading to the mix. I still enjoy seeing them though.

Moving toward the city one finds a temple, park, and apartment buildings. Shinkansen ringed the table, while other express and local commuter trains ran on other tracks. (click picture to enlarge)

Around noon we left to find lunch. We have often enjoyed the Japanese restaurant at the top of the Keisei building, but this time we were headed for a little shop with an organic food restaurant in the back. Its just across Izumi-cho from Keisei and a few doors west, next to a Yamaha musical instruments store. Called Kanazawaya, the front part of the shop sells handmade chothes, bags, jewelry, crafts, soaps, and such, as well as environmentally safe pesticides for use in the home. K discovered this shop a few weeks ago and brought me back a nice bar of homemade olive oil soap. The also feature organic foods - rice milk, peanut butter, cereals, etc. from Alishan Organic Center in Saitama, from whom I purchase grains and beans.

Handmade goods are very popular in Japan. There are even clubs where people get together to make handicrafts, then periodically hold one-day sales to finance their club.

Another movement of which this restaurant is an example is called "Slow Life", which has been around for 15 years or so in Japan. As the name implies, it eschews the mindless frenzy often seen in "modern" culture and seeks to provide a more mindful, meaningful, and pleasant life. This includes "slow food". A sign on the glass at the front of Kanazawa-ya says "slow STYLE".

The restaurant is small, and has a comfortable yet fun atmosphere. On the menu were a quiche, tofu burgers and other organic dishes. We had tofu burgers - which also have veggies on them and shiso leaves for added flavor. The meal came with salad, a vegetable soup of onions, mushrooms, and bean sprouts, beverage and desert. All for ¥880 (about $9).

"fig grain coffee" pudding for desert

Their website is here: Kanazawa-ya (Japanese, but lots of pictures).

Then it was time to head home. As we sat at a stop light, still in Mito City, I looked across the street at an auto shop and was amazed to see and old Indian on the other side of the window!

This wasn't a person from New Delhi, nor a Native American. It was a 1920's vintage Indian motorcycle, as seen in the Anthony Hopkins movie "The Fastest Indian". (A very entertaining film by the way and based on a true story.)

I asked K to pull over somewhere so I could get a picture.

Well this old Indian was surely not the fastest, but certainly a rare find, especially in Japan.

I don't know much about motorcycles, but I used the Indian website to date this one and it appears that this model was built sometime in the 1920's.

All in all a fun day and nice change from sailing. With the storm passed, we'll be back on the water in a day or two.


Going, Going, Gauguin

We went to Tokyo last week to see a wonderful exhibition of paintings, wood prints, etchings, and a sculpture by Paul Gauguin. Funny thing was, we had skimmed over the information about it and assumed (you know what means) that it was to be held at the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park where we saw "Master Paintings of 17th Century Europe" in June.

K bought our tickets on line and had found out that there is a free shuttle bus from Tokyo Station to the Gauguin exhibit, but not exactly from where it leaves.

Window cleaning with a loooooong extension pole at Tokyo Station's North Entrance

So, it was with very incomplete data that we arrived in Tokyo on the last Wednesday in July. I had some business to take care of just a block from the station, which went smoothly enough. We then set off to find the free shuttle. As you will see, it is a good thing that we didn't just hop on a train to Ueno Park, but the bad news was we spent time roaming around Tokyo Station (which ain't small) looking for the shuttle bus.

Finally, we came across some posters which pointed way to the bus stop. Oddly enough it was at the North entrance - right where our bus from home had arrived. Ah well, I needed the exercise. We had just missed a bus to the exhibit, but another would be along soon, they run every 30 minutes. When we boarded, due to the crowd (and a lady who needed a seat more than I did), K and I were in different parts of the bus. I watched the scenery go by and was was surprised to see the moat of the Imperial Palace. I thought, "wait a minute, this is on the west side of Tokyo Station and Ueno Park is four kilometers to the north." I glanced at my watch - the bus was supposed to take 15 minutes and 10 minutes had already passed. How the hell were we going to get to Ueno from here in 5 minutes? About then, we pulled up at "The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo" which is right across the street (and moat) from the Imperial Palace. DOH! Good thing we took the shuttle bus, otherwise we would have been in Ueno Park at the wrong museum wondering what happened to the exhibit.

The Guaguin Bus

By this time we were interested in lunch so got in line for the "Queen Alice Aqua Restaurant" (not to be confused with Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant) that is said to be "produced by the Iron Chef French, Ishinabe Yutaka". Whatever. It was "OK" but only offered meat dishes - mostly pork - tiny portions, and was very pricey to boot (¥1200 for a sandwich and 5 potato wedges, plus ¥400 for iced tea or coffee?). The wait was long as well. I would recommend eating at one of the many restrauants in the train station before getting on the shuttle bus. Anyway, that out of the way, we were free to view the exhibit at our leisure. And what an exhibit it is.

From the art museum - Bridge across the Imperial Palace's Moat leading to the Hirakawa Gate. The building on the left, partly obscurred by a tree is the Mainichi Shimbun building - one of Japan's major newspapers.

Surprisingly, there was no line. There were plenty of people, but no waiting to get in. The exhibit is presented chronologically with 18 paintings in the first section dating from 1882 to 1894, then a plaster sculpture "Oviri" and an Etching. Following that are 23 wood prints, and more oil paintings. In all, 53 works.

The Avenue of Les Alyscamps, Arles (1888) - a house that Guaguin shared with van Gogh

The paintings come from collections around the world, some in Japan which we have seen before, many from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, including the main draw - "D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?" (Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?) (1897–98).

Washerwomen, Alres (1888)

I was surprised to find "Where Do We Come From?..." is a huge work at 139.2 by 374.6 cm (about 55 inches high and 12 feet 3.5 inches wide). Just before it, one passes through a darkened room where a video about the elements of the painting is presented. The painting has a room to itself and because it wasn't crowded we could view it from different distances. The colors are wonderful and some of the figures even seem to glow. The elements of the painting, which is to be "read" from right to left, represent Gauguin's view of human life through it's stages.

"D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?"

Many of the figures are ones he used in earlier paintings. The black dog for example represents himself in many paintings. The old woman at the far left represents death and comes from a Peruvian mummy which he saw and used in other previous works. The woman in a black dress just to the right of the idol is his favorite child, Aline, who had recently died of pneumonia at the age of 21 and was the inspiration for this painting as well as the source of his depression. He considered the painting to be his masterpiece, and after it was finished he attempted suicide.

Lucky for us, he was unsuccessful and in the last room were six later paintings, two of which were favorites for us.

Te Pape Nave Nave (Delectable Waters) 1898, has "nave nave" colors and interesting figures - both beautiful and curious - note the woman and child in the background and the idol which is featured in "Where are we from...". The idol in his paintings does not represent a specific religion (Tahitians had no such figures), but rather the gradual stripping away of Western culture and Christianity from Gauguin the longer he stayed in Tahiti.

"A Horse On A Road" 1899, reminds me of Taveuni, where one can still see such a scene.

The exhibit runs through September 23, so there is time to go back for a second look. "D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?" by itself would be worth the trip, but there is much more to see and the other paintings help to bring context to the key work.

The weather had been mostly cloudy with some thunder. As we neared home, I noticed a strange funnel-like cloud that corkscrewed toward the ground. It lingered even as I walked Momo at dusk, the sky itself looking like an artist's canvas.


New Pictures From Solo's Kindie

As reported here earlier (Solo's Kindergarten, Solo's Kindi Update) late last year a Kindergarten was set up on Taveuni Island, Fiji for the children of Soqulu Village. Here are the latest pictures taken on July 31st - for National Pre-school Week:

For those who missed earlier posts, here's some background from the school's website, donatefiji.com :

Solo's Kindie

A local kindergarten in the Soqulu Village on Taveuni Island in Fiji. Preschool education is not subsidized in Fiji so kids in rural areas like the island of Taveuni have a low rate of preschool attendance. This means a lot of kids are unprepared for the first grade in school and suffer late academic development. Solo's operates completly on donated funds.

Taveuni Estates : Soqulu Village

Taveuni Estates was built around the local village of Soqulu (pronounced Song-goo-loo), which was once a copra plantation, so there is a Fijian village within the subdivision and many children living there. The Taveuni Rotary Club, the people of Soqulu Village, residents and land owners, and Taveuni Estates Ltd., which manages the subdivision, have come together to make this kindergarten a reality.

They can still use our help. For more pictures and information on how you can donate, visit the Solo's Kindergarten website or contact Stephen Noble at lovelyisle@connect.com.fj .

Vinaka vaka levu for your support!