Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Where can you find Turkey in Japan?

Due to the diligence and delicious dedication of Liz (far right), Dinner of a Thanksgiving variety came to Kanazawa. She is one of few people here with an oven, and is also a damn fine cook. She got up at 7 Thanksgiving morning and cooked EVERYTHING herself. Pumpkin Pie, Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, the whole ball of wax. She invited over a few Americans, and other friends and we all dug in and ate untill we could eat no more.

James feels the effects of turkey. Hmmm, sleeeeeep. Liz ordered everything from the Home Buyers Club, an internet site based in Kobe that does foreign food delivery all over Japan. Anything you can think of you can order from HBC, at a price. Well worth it for special events like Thanksgiving, if you ask me.

It felt great to eat pumpkin pie for the first time in Two Years! While it wasn't quite a Family Thanksgiving, the food was excellent and the company great. It really made me feel at home here, even though I'm thousands of miles from home. Certainly I had a much better time than I did last year, eating yakitori in some skuzzy izakaya near Nagoya Station.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Luckily for us Americans here, Thanksgiving and a Japanese National Holiday collided so we actually have the day off. I'm going to Thanksgiving Dinner at Liz's house. It's not my Mom's Turkey, but I'm sure it will be delicious. So wherever you are, have a fantastic Thanksgiving, but try not to overdose on stuffing and gravy.

Iwo Jima

Last weekend I finally got a chance to see Clint Eastwood's newest movie, Flags of Our Fathers. Having read the book, I was eager to see the filmed interpretation.

Overall I really liked it. The acting was all quite solid, and the young men
did a good job. The story of the battle and the aftermath for the boys
is very compelling. The fact that it is all based on a true story makes
it even better, and the fact that the book was written by the son of
one of the 6 'Iwo-Jima Flag Raisers' makes the tale even more heartfelt.

Despite the fact that the famous flag raising was the second flag put up that day, the three remaining soldiers, Navy Corpsmen 'Doc' Bradley, Marine Corps soldiers Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes, were hailed as conquering heroes
and feted with booze, parties, parades and more popularity then they
know how to handle. That is the real story of the movie, and while some
may wish for a more traditional Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down action/ war movie this detour into unlooked for fame is equally interesting. All the moreso because the men don't feel that they have earned any of this, as they say, the real heroes are the many men who didn't leave the island.

While some may decry the amount of the running time devoted to more mundane pursuits, certainly the battle scenes don't disappoint. Hollywood has gotten very good at simulating huge armadas, fleets, invasions, battles and the like. From the opening bombardment to the flag raising, all is captured in minute detail.

It was interesting to see a few familiar faces from other recent war movies. Barry Pepper (from both We Were Soldiers and Saving Private Ryan) and Neal McDonough, who played Buck Compton in Band of Brothers were both in fairly major roles. The remaining main roles were filled with lesser known actors, at least people I wasn't immediately familiar with. All did a fine job, though I'll admit a few of the faces did run together.

Which brings us to the main problem, and its a big one. The Editing was confusing to say the least. There are flashbacks and flashforwards in just about every conceivable combination. There are way too many time lines running more or less concurrently through the movie. We have the books author James Bradley before his dad's death, we have him interviewing his dad's friends while writing the book, then in the past we have the soldiers in training, on their way to the island, at the battle, and then touring the States as Heroes. In a short amount of running time we may go from an interview to New York to Mt Suribachi and then back to the present, all without a title card! (Though maybe the lack of title cards is because for our version they were replaced with Japanese subtitles, I don't know for sure.) I had read the book and knew the men and their stories, so I could still follow along fine, but if you hadn't then I'm sure some amount of confusion would set in.

Despite the fairly serious flaws I really enjoyed Flags, and I eagerly anticipate Clint's followup told from the Japanese side, Letters from Iwo Jima.

Monday, November 20, 2006

One Brightly Lit Temple

I have now been to Kyoto four times. I have been to Kiyomizu-dera three of those four times. This latest trip was sparked by Zach, who found that, like Kanazawa, Kyoto was lighting up one of their most famous landmarks. Always looking for an excuse to use my tripod I jumped at the chance to see the glorious view at night.

And it was glorious. Just walking around the etherially lit temple was a fantastic experience. The towering vermillion pagoda was brilliant in the flood lights. Above everything an eerie blue spotlight shone like a bright tunnel through the dark.

I needn't have bothered bringing the tripod though. To be sure, I needed it, but the crush of the crowd was too much. I never had the space or time to properly set up a night shot. I was forced to wing it with high ISO and a wide open aperature. I managed, barely. I took a whole lot of really, really blurry photos. Even the ones that came out are far from perfect. Even when I was steady as a rock, there was usually somebody kicking, shoving, pushing or just generally jostling me!

Despite that, it really was great. Fiona remarked that this was really beautiful and her favorite thing of the day. I'd say she spoke for everybody there. It was great.

A bit of background on Kiyomizu-dera. The temple was begun in 798 but the building there now date from 1633. The stage and main temple are built in the traditional style sans-nails. Think about that for a little while, especially in a country as earthquake prone as Japan! It is said that if you jump from the stage, and survive, your wish will be granted. Jumping is now prohibited, but heck its only 13 meteres or so, not really that far. Not that I'd be inclined to try it, thats for sure. Also, Kiyomizu-dera is up for inclusion of a New Seven Wonders list. Somebody got it in their head that since of the original 7 only 1 is left we need 6 replacements. There is a 21 'wonder' shortlist and Kiyomizu is on that list along with such sites as the Great Wall, Stonehenge, The Eiffel Tower and Neuschwanstein Castle.

I'll leave you with a bit of strange group photo. Notice I moved a little bit after the flash went off and got the lights of Kyoto cutting Zachs throat. Also we had lost Travis in the the crowd, so it's not quite the whole group. Oops!

Well there it is, Kyoto Fall '06. A good trip, even if the weather didn't cooperate.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The demon which wears [purada]

Looking at the website for the new Forus Cinema using Googles autotranslation feature proved that machines just can't handle the subtleties of language. Take this little description of the film "The Deavil Wears Prada"

The demon which wears [purada]

Just graduated the university un D dream is the journalist. But such a her, as for being engaged from contingent thing, the chief editor assistant of the first-rate fashion magazine of NY. Perhaps the occupation where many women yearn. So in this un D the world of interest zero. As for the end because becomes the journalist! With as for facing to the workplace however it is good, the assistant job which she inserted in the hand is easy, mono was not. Miranda of the chief editor which reigns as a super charisma existence was just “the demon which wears [purada]”.

or how about James Bond?

007/casinos [rowaiyaru]

In the 6th generation James bond, receiving Daniel the English actor [kureigu], you send, “007” the series 21st work eye. In bond girl '[evua] green of kingdom of heaven' '[dorimazu]'.

Anybody for a classic film?

Large escape

1963 America
[suteivu] [matsukuin], James [gana], Richard [atsutenboro], James [koban] and Charles [buronson]
Under World War II, the [ruhuto] 3rd air force prisoner of war camp of Germany. From this prisoner of war camp which was called the escaping impossibility, the officers and men of the allied forces who try escaping, [hirutsu] ([suteivu] [matsukuin]), [hendore] (James [gana]), [shiriru] (Richard [atsutenboro]) and others it was. The on the basis of the escaping plan which they plan, unprecedentedness, the group escape which reaches to also entire spirit 250 name was executed, but .......

Note that all of this was copied and pasted right from the Aeon Cinema website. No editing. No modification. The plain, unaltered, painful, truth. Can't wait to see James Bond and The Great Escape though!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kyoto in Autumn

When I went to Kyoto last November I got some wonderful pictures, but there were a several shots that just didn't come out. Eikando had such amazing light, and my little point and shoot just wasn't up to the task. With a better camera and better skills, I hoped to go back and see what I could do to capture that light. Rather than go solo, I fell in with a pretty large group of people. Travis, Fiona (new, from Ireland, not the previous Fiona from England. Its all so complicated, even Zach was a bit confused.), Marie, Caroline, and the aformentioned Zach.

Sadly, while my camera was ready to capture the amazing fall foliage, the weather was not in a mood to cooperate. We were confronted with a grey, rainy, and generally miserable day! Our first stop was Sanjusanendo. While I have encountered the tallest wooden building in Japan at nearby Toji, here were had the longest wooden building in Japan. The long hall was filled with 1000 near life sized images, and one larger than life sized image, of the Buddist goddess Kannon. Interestingly enough, according to wikipedia, in the Edo period underground Christians would 'hide' statues of Mary by representing her as Kannon.

To my dismay, photography was forbidden inside, so no compelling images of the long, dusky, incense ridden hall of Kannon.

Our next stop was back at Eikando, which is one of the prime leaf viewing sites in Kyoto. Our trip was a little early for the spectacular golds, reds, and oranges of the Maple leaves, but there was still a plethora of other golds, reds, and oranges. The drizzle kept things a little subdued, but it also kept the famous Kyoto Crowds down.

This magnificent Heron buzzed us moments after I shot this photo. I tried to get a picture of him going by, but Herons moving at top speed are difficult to capture on film.

We left the beatiful leaves and made a beeline for a quick supper before the main event... the lighting of one of Kyoto's most famous landmarks, Kiyomizu-dera.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen at Night

In a celebration of fall, both the castle grounds and Kenrokuen were lit up last weekend. I had a bit of time on Friday, and so I rode over with my tripod for some good old-fashioned nighttime photography. It was a very pleasent evening, slightly chill but not overly so. Soft music was playing in the background, and the grounds were shockingly devoid of people. I didn't have as much time in Kenrokuen as I wanted as I had to get back to work, but I wasn't too disapointed as I have seen the gardens at night a couple of times already. However, this was my first trip to the castle at night.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Kenrokuen in Fall

The weather last week started out cold, but by Thursday it was warm and sunny again. I took the opportunity to go back to Kenrokuen for the first time since late spring. While the leaves hadn't finished changing yet, I was lucky and caught the gardeners putting up the rope 'tents' that protect the trees from the heavy Ishikwawa snow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Christmas is Coming. Run For Your Life!

Say hi to the dancing robotic Scottish Christmas Bunnies. Its hard to think of any holiday decoration that is MORE disturbing.

School Stories

Christmas is coming soon, at least in Japan it is. Our Halloween Decorations came down and Sachiko had me brainstorm a way to make a Christmas tree. The finished product is minimalist but looks nice. I'm still bitter about it going up over two months before the holiday though!

The other day I was teaching superlatives to a pair of 9 year old girls. Big, bigger, biggest. Fast, faster, fastest. So I asked them if they could think of anymore, and they came up with a few, happy, happier, happiest; funny, funnier, funniest; Grant, Grantier, Grantiest.... What? Then they started debating, should it be Grant, Granter, Grantest, or Granty, Grantier, Grantiest. I leave it up to my loyal readers to decide what the proper superlative form of my name is.

A couple of weeks ago I was teach the Evil Class of Doom that I have. Two brothers, both of whom have a tendency to scream and generally carry on, luckily it's the only class that really gives me grey hairs. Anyway, we were playing Snakes and Ladders and the younger boy threw the dice at me to take my turn. They hit me and rolled to the floor, where I saw the magical 3 that I needed to win the game. So I didn't bother to reroll and just went with it, as class was already a bit over time. The youngest did not take this well. He took it so poorly in fact that he whipped down his pants and exposed his 'bathing suit area'. I felt suitably punished, and I think I said a very bad word and "Put that away!"

I have a class with a pair of two-year olds that can be a challange to teach. I was teaching them feelings, happy, sad, angry, excited and so on, and they got happy down pat. But when I flashed the card for sad, rather than use the English one of them just said "Happy ja nai!" Basically, Not Happy, in Japanese. I said, "Well yes but in English it is Sad. Sad. Sad."

"Happy ja nai!"


"Happy ja nai!"


"Happy ja nai!Happy ja nai!Happy ja nai!Happy ja nai!"

*Teacher Cries*

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mexican Temple

The news that a Mexican eatery had opened in Kanazawa hit the local English Teacher community like a burrito bomb. I would wager that most of the ex-pat population found themselves there at one point during the weekend. Except Paul. He went to Forus and had Korean and Sushi. Well, there's no accounting for taste.

Friday was a national holiday (Thanks Culture Day!), and so Anna, a slew of NOVA teachers, and myself decided to see, just how horribly wonderful our new favorite restaurant was.

The Menu is quite good, a wide selection of everybody's favorite Mexican dishes. Burritos, Fajitas, Tacos (Hard and Soft) and of course the Holy Grail, the combo plate. Combo #4, a cheese enchilada, chicken tamale, and beef taco, with rice and beans, was my first pick.

The Enchilada was cheesy but the sauce was weak. The tamale was ok, but tasted kind of... off. The taco was amazing, really great. The rice was fine, the beans really tasty, and the Margarita, if a bit on the pricy side, was awesome. Overall impression? Small portions and lack of true heat combined with medium high pricing keep it a special treat rather than a weekly staple. It was pretty typical of Japanese Mexican really, but honestly, its Mexican, and it is closer than Osaka. That's really all we ask for around here. Then again there is my impending trip home for Christmas. I can't wait to get my hands on some real Mexican cuisine! I'm sure it will blow my mind.

After that stomach busting lunch, two of the NOVA teachers, John and Gustav, Anna, and I cycled up to take photos of ANOTHER temple. Nestled in the hills above Kanazawa is Dionji Temple. (At least, I think thats what it is called.)

Nearby there is a small park that offers some pretty nice views of the metropolitan area, especially southern Kanazawa and Nonoichi. With sunset fast approaching we all cycled up from the temple and went into photo-overdrive.

On our way back into town we came upon this building under demolition. Who ever heard of starting on the bottom middle and working their way out. Don't you usually start at the top? Hmm very strange.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I love globalization!

So yesterday I come downstairs and look at my bike and what do you know but one of those damn big yellow spiders has parked on the handlebars. The cheeky bugger had actually webbed my bike to the apartment building! Sadly for him (her?) the creature was soon dispatched with a toilet plunger. Thus unencumbered by unwanted arachnids I saddled up and headed towards the station... and destiny.

For months we have all watched as a new, massive, shopping mall was constructed right next to Kanazawa Station. This new center, Forus Kanazawa, was eagerly anticipated as the entire top floor is a movie theater. No more biking to the wilds of Nonoichi, or biking past the station to Renais. Here was salvation, cinema in the heart of Kanazawa. Hurray!

Well the day finally came, yesterday November 2nd was opening day. I went down to check out the movie theater, and a few other odds and ends. There is a ground floor Starbucks that will be very nice to have when catching an early morning JR express. There are of course lots of shops for boring things like clothing, furniture, jewelry, etc. *yawn* Yet salvation awaits on the 6th floor...

The Food Floor! Dozens of delicious looking eateries! Being opening day, they were all packed, but I will be back, many times. Chinese, Italian, Gumbo and Oysters, Tofu, Crepes, Korean... and best of all...


Finally a mexican restaurant closer than Osaka. I cry a little when I think about it. I will surely sample it today, and let everybody know how it fares. Hmm enchiladas...