Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Three years complete

A photo of the Tsugaru plain, where I'll be spending the next 18 months.

Just a quicky to say that I won't have regular access to my email or blog for another couple of weeks. I move into my new apartment tomorrow and Yahoo Broadband usually take a couple of weeks to set things up for new customers. I'll be away for the beginning of August as well, climbing peaks down in Yamagata ken. I'll give you all the lowdown when I get back. Enjoy the festival season.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Bizarre carcass on the beach

Going to need a bit of original thinking with this one. I have no idea what this creature is, or was, and it's been puzzling me since I found it at Shariki beach yesterday, close to Inari shrine.

It was about six feet in length and it's rear end resembled some kind of sea creature. However, it had a huge great rack of ribs around it's side, and if you look closely you'll see that it had furry skin.

The above shot, though I can only guess, is it's head. It had strange bone-like things coming out of the head area which looked like some sort of beak. I don't think it was a beak though. Do fish have great big rib cages like this?

And among those fish that do have big bone structures, which ones are hairy?

At first glance it honestly looked to me like one of those prehistoric sea alligators or something. Then I passed through my thoughts the possibility of it being part of a horse's body, but the back end looked too fishy for that. To give you some perspective, I put my bag next to it.

Any thoughts on the matter please let me know. It was a wierd walk along the beach. The beach at Inari shrine is still in desperate need of a clean-up, and in addition to the washed up mutant carcass that I found yesterday, I also came across a wierd, military looking box with Russian written down the side. I actually saw objects further back that looked like small missiles, but decided that they must have been strange fishing buoys. I didn't know what to make of it.

Below is the avenue of torii at Inari shrine.

A great day for solitary adventure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I'll eat my words.

Yesterday was a holiday. The sun was shining, unstifled like April - very rare for late July, and I had too painful a headache to go outdoors (I'd ducked into Hugh's the night before and had some shots of his still bloated liquor supply). Anyway, towards the end of the day I came round and dragged myself outside to get at least a smidgen of the rarely impeccable summer skies.

There's a whole mixture up there - colour, kind, texture etc.

I kicked myself for not being on the mountain, but soon consoled myself with the consideration that I'd already climbed two mountains this weekend.

They looked like thunder clouds but without the darkness.

At around 6.30pm I decided to get out of the city to enjoy the twilight elsewhere. Somewhere with a bit of space and quietness. I went up to Yayoi zoo, where I found myself completely alone walking around the grounds, just me and my camera. The gate was open so I went in. I was probably breaking the rules but I didn't care because I got some good shots from the campsite up there.

Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me why I took a new job here in Japan - most of the time I find it difficult to explain to myself exactly why I won't be in Tibet in September, and then Nepal and India until Christmas. But that was always plan B, and we all know that B-plans can be kept on the shelf, so I'll just keep looking forward to when it does happen, I suppose.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Climbing Mt. Iwate

I decided on the above title for this post because of the lack of results you get when searching the net for information on the said mountain. It's widely listed as one of Japan's Hyakumeizan 百名山 (one hundred famous mountains), but there seems to be so little written about it in English.

Anyway, in basic report style, I'll give you my thoughts.

Getting There:
We drove, so I can only give advice to drivers. It's simple enough. You just have to look at a map and follow the Tohoku Expressway to the Takizawa exit. From the exit, follow the signs towards the mountain unti you come to a big car-park where you'll see the usual sign for the trailhead 登山口。

The Climb:
We climbed the South Eastern face of the mountain, following a trail that runs along a huge gauge created by it's last eruption. I suppose at this point I should mention that it's an active volcano, and just a few years ago it was restricted due to suspect levels of activity. The climb was called Takizawa 滝沢 (forgive me if that's the wrong kanji) and most of it was a trudge up volcanic dirt, which can be tiring. I'm sure that at any other time of year the views from this face would be spectacular, but with the summer haze this weekend it was mediocre. It's an open face though, so there's the potential to see for miles and miles.

The Hut: This is where it gets good. The eighth station (八合目) is where the hut is and it's just a 30 - 45 minute trek to the top from there. The hut sits at 1770m, which, yesterday, was above the haze and in clear view of crisp blue sky We decided to continue up to the top after stashing our bags in the hut and we managed to do the whole top circuit and back in around two hours. The hut itself is plush compared to others I've seen and used. It's 1500 yen a night and it can fit up to a hundred people. We cooked our food along with all the others out front on the benches. There's really good fresh mountain water there, too. What I liked most about the hut was it's power set-up. There were loads of these solar panels all over the outside, and something that looked a lot like a thermal generator next to the toilet. (methane?)

The Summit:

When you get to the volcano ridge from the eighth station the view is wicked. There's actually a peak within the volcano mouth, and from the point you reach on the volcano ridge climbing from the eighth station, it's just fifteen minutes up to the summit at 2039m. Being the nancy boy that I am, I forgot to take my camera up to the top so I can't offer you any pics. Don't know what was going through my mind when I left that behind. It was well worth the relatively mundane climb up to the hut though, just for the volcano mouth further up. You can actually climb down into the mouth and get yourself a free facial from the steam coming out of the rocks. I look beautiful now, I can tell you.

The Next Day: Well, from here on there's nothing else of any use that I can offer to other potential climbers of this mountain, so I'll just give you some pics of our experience.

Rocking sunrise:

Although the sun first had to show it's face in order to burn through the thin clouds that had enveloped the mountain overnight, by around 4.30am it was shining like hot coal. I'd had a bad night sleeping next to an old man who snored like mad, so I could do little the next morning but float around the hut taking pictures of the sun.

Fresh mountain dew:

Fresh water poured out of the ground and into these yellow tanks at the eighth station.

Great scenery around the outside of the volcano mouth.

I didn't see a TV in the hut, but there was an antenna.

My two climbing pals for the weekend.

After several attempts, Naoko got one shot which didn't make me look camp in my red shorts. It's not easy.

Driving back I just had to have one last snap.

Actually, we got off the mountain at around 10.30am, and with the three of us smelling like mirky onsen water, we decided to go and clean ourselves off.... in an onsen. There are loads of onsen nearby, but if you're not into the smelly ones I wouldn't bother. This is volcano country, don't forget; volcano onsens reek.

We also visited Koiwai Farm, the famous dairy theme park where people line up in a queue for an hour in the burning sun to pull on a cow's udder and have their photo taken. There's also a wierd sheepdog show there, where a Japanese guy, wearing an Australian rancher's hat, publicly humiliates a sheep in front of about two hundred people, and messes up what they call 'The Great Sheepdog Challenge'. It's a ball!! The beer tents were suprisingly good though, and the food got damn near full marks.

Now, I'm not going to post a picture of my misfortune, but on Saturday night I was bitten by a very violent little mosquito on the forehead. As a consequence, and I promise I haven't been scratching it at all, I now have a huge bulge sticking out the front of my head. Moral of the story: don't forget your repellent. And don't forget your earplugs.

Friday, July 15, 2005

What are the kids doing now?

Something I never did at school, I know that. My students are in the middle of preparing for their own little version of the Neputa festival parade. All high school kids have what is called Bunka sai 文化祭。Bunka sai translates as 'cultural festival' and as far as I know they do it every year around this time. If you don't know anything about Neputa/Nebuta, then I recommend this website as an intro. In fact, the Hirosaki Neputa festival is a bit different, but in my mind it's the best. Well, Goshogawara's Standing Nebuta is also good, but that's a different town.

This is what a young girl was painting in the corridor today, and it's a typical design of the Hirosaki Neputa floats:

It gets a lot more colourful than this, and when everything's all done and finished I'll post more pics.

This next shot shows all the students building the bases of the floats. They have to build them all from scratch so there's a lot of work to do. If only they draughted me in as chief carpenter, I'd be in my element. I wouldn't know what the hell to do, but I'd sure love bossing the kids around.

Next, 生徒は坊主が好き: The students love a short haircut.

I've had a lot of "Can I touch?" requests recently.

And finally, just a colourful shot of the workplace.

When the Neputa season gets into full swing, and if I've got time between my mega-busy schedule next week, I'll try to get some shots of the city Neputa preparations.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Party Season

The good thing about changing your position and moving on somewhere new is that you get to go to a lot of free parties. At least, they are free for you. Tonight I went to my farewell English club party with all the girls and Naoki the farmer. I'll miss the lot of them, even though I'll be living in the same city. English club, over the years, has given me the chance to confront my cultural barriers face to face. I haven't always had good experiences with these people, but, like I said to one of the girls tonight, it has been an intrinsic part of my development as a foreigner.

This is the gang, as it stands, July 2005.

Now there's a question: Do you know how to be a good foreigner? It's a question that's been tickling my nasal hairs these past few months, and apart from all the nose picking I've done to try and combat it, I've given it a lot of serious thought as well. I start with this fact: I am a foreigner. And then taking that identity in hand, I've tried to notion up some kind of ideal, some kind of end-person that I might become when I leave. I've got a good idea of the kind of foreigner people want in this country, but is that what I should give them? I don't think so, and I've tried damn hard to avoid being that person. My thoughts have been solely focused, though, on what kind of foreign mentality I should develop for my own personal good: What can I get out out the frustration of being an unassimilated by-stander? What kind of person can this experience make of me? What achievements can I get out of it?

Being foreign in Japan is a lot of fun, undoubted. I always have a scapegoat identity that I can use when I do something silly; I can watch others from a distance and chuckle at their own 'foreign' extremities. But there's always a downside. Being foreign, for me, has also always been about testing my own weiry tolerance of what yesterday I considered stupidity, and trying to work on it for my own self-development tomorrow. When you live in Japan as a foreigner you will doubtless be forced into 'foreign' circumstances that you disagree with; you will become, at times, an unassimilated involvee. And that, occasionally, can cause problems.

Not sure where I'm going with this, but I know that recently I've managed to brush aside a lot of things that would have caused me grief a couple of years ago. And that to me signals a growing level of tolerance.

A disgruntled Politics graduate before I came out here, tolerance has been in demand as a foreigner in this country, and I think I'm making ground. English club, like I said, has given me the opportunity not to prove that my cultural frustrations have a sanctuary where thay can be massaged back into place, just to be bent out of shape again at work or on the train, but somewhere to analyse these issues up front, and take them home and churn over them. The folks at English club, since they are my main source of good English-speaking Japanese, have given me a voice outside myself, and that in turn has helped me, over the years, to move ahead of the person I was yesterday.

A lot of drunk garb, you might say. Probably. Anyway, here's a picture of the 30 year old Jamie Patterson who celebrated the big three zero on Sunday at Kaprichozas (spelling?)

Here's to turning 30 in Japan, Jamie. You, and me.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Johnny's not my friend

A word of warning to all poker players:

Never invite Johnny Walker to your card game. That Scottish git will only take your money and leave you feeling like crap the next day.

And as for Boris Smirnoff.....

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Various Thoughts

Above is an image of a protestor at the G8 meeting of world leaders in Scotland. At one time I would have revered such an image of activism^

My first thought is about this meeting of world leaders in Scotland. But so as not to get bogged down in the thick of it all, let's break my thinking down into unmethodical and random sub-thoughts:

*Many African countries are poor
*Western countries are comparatively rich
*Aid to those African countries is good
*Debt relief for those countries is even better
*Fair trade for those countries is miles better than the previous two, and it's where we start to take poverty seriously
*Most poor African economies are at least 50% agricultural
*Britain's agriculture accounts for just 6% of economic output
*European farmers (including good old Bonnie Prince Charlie of Wales) receive ridiculous amounts of government subsidies each year which allows them to artificially reduce the price of their goods, which then allows them to out-compete the poor African farmers, most of whom are already living on some meagre two dollar a day breadline (Prince Charles receives £300,000 of tax-payers' money every year to keep his huge farming interests going)
*African farmers find themselves imposed with uncompetetive trade tariffs whenever they try to sell their produce in Europe
*African farmers are powerless to change this situation due to their dependence on imports and aid from the USA and the EU.
*Africans don't know how to say thankyou

This hard-up pair need your money to keep their farm going^

Actually, that last one was a remnant from last night's showdown at English club. It was my last session before I retire and move on to new ground, so I wasn't in the mood for any nonsense from old mother goose.

Anyway, the old goose gave it her best, saying that those Africans never say thankyou when we give them money, and then, as if to lay condescension straight on condescension, she explained that they don't know any better because their religion teaches them not to thank the rich for handouts because it's their obligation.

Angela and I were quick to correct her on her mis-information and blatant prejudices, but as the old saying goes: you can't teach an old goose new tricks. She never seems to listen to what us young and inexperienced people have to say.

So, there we have the brunt of my thoughts. But what I also found stunning from the usual suspects last night was the lack of awareness with regard to this week's meeting in Scotland. My good man Naoki the farmer was the one clear exception to this trend. Although even he didn't really have much knowledge of the meeting's agenda.

I know that the Guardian has been hyping this meeting up to the point where it's bound to be a disappointment, and the New York Times is giving it nothing but the bare minimum, as it did with Live8. But judging from last night's tumbleweed reaction to the question - "Have you been taking much interest in the G8 meeting this week?" - the Japanese press has been super-slack.

While we're on the themes of poverty, Africa and ignorance, why don't I show you a picture of a supermarket doorway and neon lights that I took the other night^

Next thought: London Olympics 2012. If I'm still alive when these Olympic games are held, I'm sure I will quickly come to begrudge those people who decided to stick it in London. I was in Sydney about a year before the games were held there and the media coverage was suffocating. Every nancy-pancy little bit of advertising in the whole country, or the city of Sydney at least, was riding the Olympic train. Wow, it was heavy stuff, and probably worth emigration to a far away land in 2011. It's a commercial juggernaut, and that's why nations hold it in such high regard. Out of all the sports that take place, I think I only find the football interesting.

Third thought: Sorry, but I've been in the office for too long now and my head has been leveled. I have no more thoughts. Ready for class!!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Like the new wallpaper?

While searching for a new background colour I came across this little number. Nice, don't you think? I did find another, subtler, more atoned colour which I'm going to substitute later this afternoon. Just want to keep the pink for a short while though. Think of it as a kind of political statement.

Monday, July 04, 2005

A move towards people

I'd like to be able to say that I'm sick of photographing mountains now, but I'm not. These days though, I have to tell you that each time I go up on Iwaki I find it very difficult to shoot a part of the mountain that I haven't shot before. I still enjoy getting it out up there though, especially when nobody's around. The camera, that is. I've decided, however, that it's time I shifted my general focus to a different subject; I think it's time I started doing a bit more portraiture.

Not very good at having my portrait taken, let alone taking it myself.

Portraits used to be my strong point at school. Old folks were always the easiest subjects for an interesting image. With black and white film it was easy to process the images so that they came out looking a lot more wrinkly than in real life. With the right kind of film and exposure combination, and a few extra seconds of light in the dark room, you could achieve a level of contrast that would make a 65 year old look at least 80. Of course, you shouldn't tell elderly people that before you photograph them. They often don't appreciate seeing the finished picture either.

Anyway, more of that stuff to come. In the mean time, here's this year's crop of the purple flower that only grows on Iwaki. Or at least that's what they tell me. If anybody out there has seen this very same flower growing on any mountain other than Iwaki, please let me know.

Without too much haze, the mountain's got his hat on. In fact, it's got a bit cooler this week than last so the haze has partially disappeared as well.

Here's an interesting fact: Did you know that last week's heat wave was responsible for the deaths of up to 400 people in East Asia? Conveniently ignored by the press? Not worth reporting anyway? Sounds fishy to me.