Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Manglish--Cici's Yellow Shirt

This is Cici's favorite yellow T-shirt...complete with misspelling and wackiness.  When we go home, I tend to pack shirts that were either purchased in America to begin with, or those which are graced only with a picture...

The misspelling is, of course, "your" for "you're"--though, unlike poorly educated Americans, the creators of this t-shirt can at least claim non-native speaker status as the reason for their (not "there") mistake....

"It is a woman who always shines
     and it is painful."

You know, I can usually look at Manglish and have some idea of what the writer was thinking in Japanese (because it's the sort of mistake that happens when translating too literally from one language to another).  So, you ask, what was this writer thinking?  NO IDEA!  This one is so weird, I can't even piece together what they were trying to say in Japanese...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Field Notes--Mystery Plants

mo chotto matte te, ne....
Egretta garzetta--Little Egret (Kosagi)

Riding home this afternoon after picking up my daughter from Kumon, I looked up to see a large, prow-shaped shadow swooping in for a landing on the power line above my head.  It just slays me, for some reason, seeing enormous wading birds perched precariously on power lines...

 ...Kosagi came to visit this morning, too. in amongst the now exploded cattails...

It got down cold last night--puddles froze, and water dripping from an old outdoor faucet at the temple formed an optical illusion....

 I meant to go straight on home, but got distracted by the neighbor's Boke (Japanese Flowering Quince)--some of the recently opened flowers were variegated pink and white.

Yatsuba ("eight fingers", so named for the eight-lobed leaves)

...I turned around to go, and noticed this--a plant I've seen before without knowing what it was. And since there was no friendly O-Baasan around to tell me the name of it, I was forced to turn to Google Image search...

Aha!  Yatsuba--yatsu means "eight", clearly a reference to the eight-lobed leaves...
Fatsia japonica (Japanese Aralia)
In fact, I remembered seeing this back in November while out on a walk with my husband.  We went winding around up the hills behind the soccer field and the crawdad pond.  I saw quite a few of these in bloom up on the mountain.

Flower umbels like snowballs in fall...

White snowball flowers bloom in late fall above large, leathery palmate leaves.
Umbels like this are characteristic of  plants in both the Apiaceae family (carrots, parsley, dill, and fennel, for example) and the Araliaceae family (ivy, aralia, and fatsia)

green onions growing out of a crack between sidewalk and wall

...In fact, if that flower shape puts you in mind of an onion in flower, that's because onion flowers, too, are an umbel (family Alliacea).

When the flowers are done, the heads become the fruiting body--which are eventually black.  The ones I saw today were still green...

Noticing the Yatsuba again without knowing its name reminded me of another mystery plant I've seen in a couple of places without having the faintest idea of what it was.

The plant to the right I noticed on my bike on the way to baseball practice--and it stopped me dead in my tracks.  I screeched to a stop and gaped--what on earth?  Nearly six feet tall (taller than me, anyway), and hung with puffy, green No--not flowers, pods.  Pods with hair-like, spiky protuberances all over, and which tickled at the memory...

The crazy thing was growing right up out of a crack in the pavement. 

 Looking closer, I found the small white flowers.  From this angle they seemed vaguely orchid-shaped...

...until I looked at some blooming above my head and could see 5 starry petals.  Not orchid-shaped, but pretty.

I took a closer look at one of the hairy pods that still naggingly reminded me of something I'd seen before...

And, again, nobody about to pester about the name of this plant, which wasn't "planted" since it was growing out of a crack in the sidewalk just outside someone's garden.

...a step even closer revealed something else...

Aphid-like (to my eyes) bugs, brightly yellow-orange against the pale spring green of the pods...

ladybug has a field day... (nom, nom, nom)

...the bugs were fascinating.  I could hardly tear my eyes away--so I took video of them.

This completely grossed my husband out...

Inside the community center was a display of Hagaki (hand-painted postcards)-- one with the plant I had seen on the way!

A Haiku...


Full of balloons
even now they break
and fly away

...but no mention of the name of the plant.  There was no help for it--Google Image search to the rescue!

Asclepias physocarpa--Baloonplant, or Swan Plant

Aha--Balloonplant, a species of milkweed.  That's what was nagging--those seedpods reminded me of the milkweed I used to play with in the Field as a child (only those were oblong, not round, and we only played with them after they were dried out and brown.  My fingers can still feel the silk of the seeds and the smoothness of the inside of the dry pods...).  And those bugs?  Aphis nerii--the milkweed aphid.

I thought they were weirdly pretty--my husband, on the other hand, now thinks I'm Officially Nuts. ;-))

Kirishima Eruption

My husband was reading the paper this morning, and suddenly shouted out to everybody, "Hey!  Look!  There was a volcanic eruption yesterday in Kyuushuu!" We've been to Kyuushuu a number of times, since his family is all from there.  The kids, naturally, all rushed over to have a look at the photo in the newspaper.  "Funka?!  Honto?!"  Yes, really!

Sei Iijima of the Japan Meteorological Agency said (according to this morning's paper) that a major eruption is not imminent.  The photo shows a 2500m ash cloud, though, which has prompted some people to evacuate (voluntarily), some schools to delay opening, a couple of JR Lines closed, and a Level 3 alert warning.  That means nobody is supposed to approach within a mile of the volcano.  Shinmoedake is the volcano (there are several in the area) inside Mount Kirishima which is actually erupting.  This morning's Nikkei says this is the biggest eruption at Kirishima since 1959.  Watch that video closely--there are lightning strikes inside the ash cloud!  (NOTE:  the cause of the lightning is not well understood, though geologists have believed it to be caused by charge separation from volcanic dust particles colliding and building up static charges.  A newer theory has to do with the water content of magma).

Here is a video montage from the JMA webcam:

...and if you can read Japanese, or can at least match up Kanji, here's a link to the webcam.  Click on
霧島山 猪子石(新燃岳)  (scroll down, it's near the bottom of the window on the top right side of the page--if you can watch it, look at all the ash spots all over the camera!).

This is the trade-off we make for living in a country filled with natural hot springs.  All those hot springs are there because of all the volcanoes (which, of course, also means plenty of earthquakes--my kids have earthquake drills at school.  Being from the Midwest, I thought that was weird--but my students and their parents all think it's bizarre to have tornado drills:-))

UPDATE:  I saw in the paper this morning that 500 households have been evacuated (not voluntarily) because of the threat of destruction by magma.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On The Edge Of My Seat

This amazing short movie has now passed muster with all three of my kids--big thanks to Bjorn Ostman at Pleiotropy for posting this!  I'd not likely have seen it otherwise.  I paused the video in places to read (and simplify and explain) to my kids how much life was snuffed out, extinct, gone forever, after the Toba Super Eruption, after the asteroid hit at the end of the Cretaceous, after the Permian-Triassic Great Extinction, after the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction...and then.... oh, just watch already!  This 12 minute movie is 16 kinds of cool.  If you have children--watch it with them!  And if you don't, go run out in the street, grab some kids, and have *them* watch it.  Seriously.

Sugoi, desho!
Mata asobou, ne!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

...And The Kids' Top Music Picks

"Mama--what's that?"

"It's a video.  Billie Holiday--mommy likes this song.  Do you want to hear it?"

"Mm!"  (Japanese sound for "uh huh!")


Not much reaction.  "How about this one?  This is Michael Jackson when he was little.  You know--Thriller."


(General booty shaking ensues to "I Want You Back")

"I want Shan-Ran-Ran!" from Koshi.
"I want the Zoroark movie song!"  from Teddy
"Best Friend!"  from Cici.

So I thought I'd share my kids' picks with you, too:-))

Here is Koshi's favorite, the second opening song from one of his favorite anime "Inazuma Eleven" (a soccer story that seems to me to be inspired by Shaolin Soccer).  My husband says he thinks this is Orange Rage.

Kinda catchy, no?

Here is Teddy's favorite (recent favorite, anyway), the theme song to the most recent Pokemon movie with Zoroark (English spelling?  Sorry--only know how to write that in Japanese!).  Here is Sukima Switch singing Ice Cream Syndrome on Pokemon Sunday (my kids watch this show on Sunday morning):

I rather like that one, myself--good voices:-))

And little Cici (7 last week) likes best a song she's sung many times at school--the original of which turns out to be by one of my favorite Japanese duos:  Kiroro.  *Love* these ladies.  The main singer has strong yet lilting voice that I love listening to (and, as a bonus, she doesn't usually sing too high--so I can more or less sing along in the shower;-)).  Here is Kiroro "Best Friend":

*Lovely*.  Cici, honey, you have good taste.  Mommy likes this one, too.  The third graders sang this last year at the spring concert (Koshi's class)--made me cry, they were so cute and sang it so well.  I'd put it up, but don't have permission to publish everybody else's kids...

Enjoy!  If you like these, let me know and I'll put up other Japanese songs (from anime or elsewhere) that my kids and I like.

Mata asobou, ne!

An Award--Thanks, Ez!

Awesome Ezmirelda, who comments here frequently, thought enough of my blog to pass an award my way:))  Wow!  I've never had one of those--thanks, Ez, for thinking of me!  Ezmirelda, for those who don't know her, is a hard-working high school student who, in addition to studying Japanese, writes YA novels in her spare time (!)--and who made it through National Novel Writing Month last November (which means writing a 50,000 word novel in the space of a month--yeah, *exactly* what I thought!  Ez--you go, girl! I wish I'd been that cool when *I* was in high school...;-))

Anyway, according to Ezmirelda, I'm supposed to (in addition to thanking her and linking back) tell you 7 things about myself, and link to some other stylish blogs out there.

About me:

1) Like Ez, I love to read--I've read Pride and Prejudice so many times that (I'm ashamed to say) I've lost count.  Pay attention while you're reading--my writing tends to be sprinkled with quotes (why use your own words when Jane's are so much better? ;-))

2) I used to be a high school German teacher (so I also answer to "Frau")--so watch yourselves, or I'll have you declining adjectives and listing dative prepositions (aus, ausser, bei , mit...)

3)  I've been in Japan for 14 years, married for 10, and learned to speak Japanese from the inside out--no classes, didn't know a word when I came.  Maybe my high school German teacher was right:  best way to learn a language?  Fall in love:-))

4) I like watching Japanese anime with my kids--both because I pick up a lot of Japanese that way, and because I'm constantly amazed at the high level of animation in Japan (Disney channel other American animated series can't even begin to compete).  Also--I feel I must insist that Naruto opening #10 was the best one...(and now despise me if you dare...;-))

5) My laundry stares forlornly at me from a pile far more often than it ought...

6) I am a bird-watcher from force of long habit.  Also flowers.  And trees.  And butterflies.  And recently spiders.  I don't recommend being a passenger in any car I am driving--I'm all "Oooh!  Cows!"...

7) I am a shamelessly biased Mommy, because I think my kids are the cutest ones ever :-))

Enough about me--on to some Stylish Bloggers I think deserve a shout-out:

1) Ann Foxlee--the coolest person I know, and also my sis:-))  In addition to writing a YA fantasy trilogy, she's also the Best Jeweler in Portland (nepotism is ok, right?).  She's super busy making gorgeous jewelery, so she posts occassionally--but when she does, it's awesome!  Check out her Art That Makes Me Wanna Write A Book posts!  Very cool art--you'll likely be inspired yourself...

2)Falen, aka Sarah Ahiers--a super writer and blogger who posts great stuff on the nuts and bolts of writing, and whose Steampunk Writing Hat I covet desperately...Pop over on Fridays for Fun Times with Yvie (the adorable Frenchie who helps out blogging by posting LOLcats and other fun stuff for all of us apes:-))

3)Summer Frey-- over at "...And This Time Concentrate!"  A fellow bird-lover, and mama to two *beautiful* kittehs, Summer posts cool photos, too!  (Check out the snow they got!  Awesome Winter Wonderland photos:-))

4)Shelley Sly--at Stories in the Ordinary.  She's querying--go give her some support!  And--I was so glad to find somebody else besides me who cried at Toy Story 3...:-))

5)Matt Wagner--at Hellion Gallery.  He's not a writer (yet!), but he's curating his Very Own Brand New Art Gallery!  (More shameless nepotism--he's my sis's husband:-))  Head over there for a peek at some new, original, young talented artists from Japan!  You just might be inspired... (and if you're in or going through Portland, stop in!)

Go on--give them some love!

(p.s.--didja spot the Jane Austen quote?  Cookie for you if you did!)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top Ten Music Picks....This One Goes To Eleven

Reading over Falen's top ten music list has inspired me to have a go myself, even though I really need 7 or 8 or 10 different genre lists to put all my favorites down.  So this list will be more...representative, shall we say.

Let me just say first that my "taste in music" is....eclectic to say the least.  There are, I think, several reasons for this--but the main one is early exposure to a wide variety of musical styles.  My parents liked (and owned) classical music...and jazz and swing...and popular music of the 50's, 60's and 70's, the music they grew up with.  We had a lot of that on 8-track:-))  The other main reason this list will seem mixed up to some people is that I have both some musical training (flute), and some dance training (a little ballet, jazz, tap, ball room--and I just generally like to shake my booty.  Especially when nobody's home...)

In no particular order:

Billie Holiday, Summertime (also I'll Be Seeing You, and... ain't nobody sing like The Lady!)

 James Galway, Greensleeves  (I play flute--and he came to my university when I was a freshman.  He is jaw-droppingly good-- an amazing and funny performer. At one point during the performance he pulled a tin whistle out of his pocket and began to play...and suddenly there stood before us not a world-famous flautist wearing a tuxedo, but a little boy who loved to play.  He shares something very special with the audience when he does that)

Simon & Garfunkel, Cecilia (my husband likes this one,too--and our daughter is named after it;-)  I grew up with this...on 8-track.  Also, you can dance to it.

 Sibelius, 2nd Symphony, Finale  (I played this in high school--it still makes me feel like I'm being lifted straight to heaven.  It was an intense musical experience--and our orchestra placed first in state competition with it.  I am profoundly grateful that our director chose it--that he chose difficult music and challenged us to play it.  We seldom played versions arranged for high school players.)

 Jackson 5, I Want You Back  (Also on 8-track...I challenge you listen to this and *not* shake your booty!  What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to...shake our booty!  I'm dancin'--you?)

Dave Brubeck Take 5 (My dad had this album--the original, which I listened to over and over.  And appreciated even more when I got to high school and understood that this piece is not in standard 4/4)

REM, Radio Free Europe (college music--the stuff your boyfriend introduces you to.  I saw REM in Hamburg, in a pub with no more than 300 people.  My friend and I listened to them perform this song--she and I sat on their instrument cases:-))

Puccini, O Mio Babbino Caro  (this makes me wish I'd had voice instruction at some point in my life, so that I, too, could sing like angels in the shower.  Yes, angels take showers, too--and this is what they sing!)

Young MC, Bust a Move (this makes my butt go--and the rhyming!  Is he the second incarnation of Edward Lear?  Call me a philistine if you must, but...yeah, I see you there, bustin' a move in your bedroom;-))

Ray Charles, Georgia On My Mind (this song makes me homesick--it could be the national anthem, except everybody in the other 49 states would complain. But I wouldn't, even though I'm from Indiana--I know he meant it for everybody).

Coventry Carol (the only time we ever had music on playing in the background was at Christmas.  I love Christmas music, and this is my favorite one--medieval and haunting, and I love to listen to it sung in a cavernous cathedral)

So--what do you sing in the shower to?  Shake your booty all by yourself in your bedroom to?  Fly up to heaven with?  Do tell!  Another time, I'll put up a list of Japanese songs I like:-))

(Again, note that this is by no means an exhaustive list--ask me next week, and you'll see The Supremes, Frank Sinatra, Teleman woodwind quartets, Johnny Cash, The Carpenters, Ella Fiztgerald, The Nutcracker Suite, En Vogue, Mozart, and Madonna...)

Ja ne!  Mata asobou!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Land of Cute--Is Sometimes Cool

For those who dislike J-Pop in general or Amuro Namie in particular--no need to torture yourself.  You needn't watch if you don't like it:-))  This post, though, isn't exactly about J-Pop, or Amuro Namie (yes--I like some J-Pop...I have *very* eclectic musical taste.  I like classical and jazz because I play flute;  I like pop and hip hop because I like to dance:-)) 

What I noticed while watching this video ("Queen of Hip Pop" from the 2005 Space of Hip Pop tour), was Japanese Cool layered over Japanese Cute.  I came to Japan in 1997--the year Amuro's "Can You Celebrate?" came out (listened to that song in *every* conbini I went into for months), the song that rocketed her to super pop-stardom.  She is still arguably Japan's number one pop singer (though Koda Kumi is giving her a run for her money these days).

So why did this strike me as particularly cool?  Three things to watch for:

1) look how hard her back dancers are working it, and how Amuro manages to look twice as cool with far less movement or just a look at the audience,

2)  she *rocks* that hat,  and...

3) the boots.  Look at the spike heels on her boots (several centimeters higher than the boots her back dancers are wearing)...and watch the video, paying careful attention to what she does at 1:14

Did you see that?  She skips down nine (I counted them) steps in front of a live audience wearing the highest spike-heeled boots I've ever seen...without falling down.

...and that concert was in 2005--after she had her baby.  That gets Cool props in my book;-))

(p.s.--I keep trying to get the opening body roll right, and it ain't happening...)
(p.p.s.--I wonder how she goes to onsen with that tattoo on her arm?  Maybe she can pay to clear the place out for her own personal use...;-))

Spy Shopper--Eat All Your Mums!

That's right--flowers!  And I'm not in a flower shop, no, nor the florist section of the grocery store.  I'm in the vegetable aisle--and those are chrysanthemums.  For eating.  Really.  It says so right on the package:   "Shoku yo giku"...eating use mums.

beautiful just to look at...

Remember when I wrote about chrysanthemums?  The beautiful row of yellow ones I found out on a walk?  On the other side of that empty lot was a house with the friendliest Irish setter I've ever met.  Falling into conversation with the dog's owner (a very kind O-Baasan who cut persimmons off her tree and sent them home with me), she told me that the mums I was admiring were edible.  The same kind, in fact, as the ones I sometimes saw in the store.  She thought these, however, had gotten a bit too big.  The man who planted them, she said, had let them go a little too long, and now they wouldn't be so good to eat. She recommended tempura, I think...

Full disclosure:  I have never eaten them myself!  Or cooked with them, because I haven't taken the trouble to seek out a recipe.  Of course, you do see small yellow chrysanthemum heads adorning sashimi, along with the shiso leaf and wasabi--but that's not the same as cooking with them...

...I have, though, eaten the leaves "Shungiku"--you can see them in the bag there, next to some hakusai.  They're displayed next to each other because you can put both kinds of greens into Nabe--a one-pot dish of simmered greens, carrots, mushrooms, tofu, and fish or shrimp or meatballs or other protein.  Warm, tasty, easy, and fast to clean up--what's not to like?

...and since they're only Y198, I think I may just get some the next time we have Nabe...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

12 Japanese Words To Get Around With

Study hard!  Treats if you pass!

For readers learning Japanese, or who want to learn, below is a list of 12 words to get you started right!  These are words that I use constantly, and which I felt the lack of before I learned them.
A list this short, however, is bound to be controversial, so to my readers who already speak Japanese--do you agree?  Disagree?  What's on your list of essential words for the beginner?  Please comment--I'd love to know!

Ja--sore dewa, benkyou shimashou!! (Then let's study!)

Domo arigatou (gozaimasu)
 "thank you (very much)"....this is the number one word to learn no matter *which* language you're learning.  

Yoroshiku (onegaishimasu)
 "please treat me kindly" the best way I know how to translate this difficult-to-translate-but-you-need-it-every-five-minutes phrase.  Learn this one!   You can say this when you meet someone.  It's what they'll probably say to you.  There's another phrase that means "nice to meet you", but this one is more multi-purpose.  "YOH ROH SHE KU"
    Onegaishimasu!  possibly cheating and making the list really 13 words here, but by itself  this word means  "please (do me a favor)".  Cream with your coffee?  Onegaishimasu!  May I take that away for you?  Onegaishimasu!  Would you like fresh towels?  Onegaishimasu!  Pay by credit card?  "OH NAY GAH EE SHEE MAHSS"
"Bon appetit!"  Note the lack of appropriate English phrase here...  Put your hands together, bow forward a little, and say in a cheerful voice "EEt TAH DAH KEE MAHHHS(u)!!"  The literal meaning is "I humbly partake/receive", which I think is a fine thing to say before eating a meal, whether you're being fed by someone else or not.

 "It was a feast!"...again, no good English equivalent, but you get the idea.  As with "Itadakimasu!", put your hands together, bow forward a little, and in a cheerful, grateful voice say "GO CHEE SOOH SAH MAH!",  bonus points if you remember to stick on the verb "DESH TAH!" (deshita).

 "Delicious!"  I needed this word almost as soon as I got here--you get along so much better in a foreign country if you're willing to try all the food people give you, and even better if you can praise it as  delicious.  If you still have food in your mouth and you need to say this, put your hand in front of your mouth and speak from behind your hand.  "OH EE SHEE!"  Lengthen the last "eeee" to indicate just how delicious you think something is:-))

 "Cute!!"...this is probably the most controversial word to include in a short list like this, but I stand by it. This is the Land of Cute--if you come to Japan you will be surrounded by Cute, and will need to express that. You will seem like far less of a scary foreigner if you can, when looking at someone's cute baby or toddler on the train, smile benignly, bow forward a little, and say "KAH WAH EEEE!".  Trust me on this.
"Excuse me!"/ "I'm sorry!"/"Thank you!"....this is very nearly an all purpose word that you need a hundred times a day.  Somebody picks up and returns something you dropped? "Domo! Sumimasen!"  Bumped into someone?  "Sumimasen!  Gomen nasai!"  Need to call the waiter/shopkeeper?  "Sumimasen!"  Making your way through a crowd?  "SOO ME MAH SEN!"

Gomen nasai!
"I'm sorry!" ...Like "thank you", a word you need no matter what language you're learning.  As above, it can be used with "Sumimasen!" if you've bumped into someone, or you can just say "Gomen nasai!" while bowing forward a little"GO MEN NAH SAH EE!"

Hai, dozo!
 "Here you are!"...offer things with both hands and bow forward a little, even to children.  When my oldest son was a year old, an elderly gentleman on the train played an adorable game with Koshi's shoe that Koshi had taken off and (for some unfathomable reason)decided to give to the old man.  The kindly grandfather received it, bowing and saying "Ah!  Arigatou!...."  waiting a beat, then handing the shoe back to Koshi, bowing and saying "Hai!  Dozo!"  They played like this, over and over, for a good ten minutes--Koshi was overjoyed.  *So* cute:-))  Use this when allowing someone to go ahead of you, too.

 "Please!"...any food word plus "KOO DAH SAH EE", will get you what you want in a restaurant or shop.  Note:  this is not the same as "please do me a favor"--use "Onegaishimasu!" for asking someone to do something for you.
Mada (mada) dame desu!
 "I don't know anything!"...when somebody tells you how "Jouzu!" (good!) your Japanese is, shake your hand and say "MAH DAH DAH MAY DESS!".  Literally this means "it's still awful!".  It's good to be humble:-))  Repeat the "mada" twice to emphasize how far you still have to go.
Oshiete (kudasai)!
"Please teach me!"  Everybody likes to be an expert now and again.  If you don't know what to do, "Oshiete kudasai!".  Need help with the o-hashi (chopsticks)?  "Oshiete kudasai!"  Can't figure out the toilet in the hotel room?  Point and say "OH SHE AY TAY KOO DAH SAH EE!"

Dewa,  i-----ppai benkyou shite, kudasai!  Gambatte, ne!  (So, please study a----lot!  Do your best!)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday Field Notes--Wagtail Wars

水仙... Narcissus


hatsuyuki ya
suisen no ha no
tawamu made

First snow
Just enough to bend
the leaves of the Narcissus
Of course, there's no snow.  But the narcissus were up around the gingko tree, and the neighbor's paperwhites are in bloom--just when I was starting to feel lonely for flowers.  That Haiku by Basho was the first one I memorized in Japanese, and it's still my favorite.  It always comes to mind when I see narcissus, be they snow-covered or not.   

As I was walking home from school...

Tsugumi  Turdus naumanii (Nauman's Thrush)
...look!  See who's come back?  Tsugumi!  I've waited and waited to see him again.  Nauman's Thrush--he migrates down from breeding grounds in Siberia to winter in Southeast Asia, China, and here.  Two years ago, a couple of them came to visit the persimmon tree next door. That winter vacation was particularly good weather, and the tree still had a number of persimmons on it.  It attracted quite a number of birds, and I had loads of fun hanging over the balcony with the binoculars while putting the futons out every day.  I didn't fall off, but did drop my pillow.  And a blanket--had to clunk down four flights of stairs and run around back to go get them...

I'm assuming, actually, that this is Nauman's Thrush, and not the Dusky Thrush, since Nauman's was the only one listed in my field guide....but it could be wrong. The Dusky Thrush appears to have been split off, or is a subspecies (Turdus eunomus), but they are sometimes still considered conspecific.  Ahhh--ornithological battles...split? species? subspecies? hetero or conspecific?  Reading down the list of bird books at Avibase, the older editions list Dusky as Turdus naumanii....then as Turdus naumanii eunomus, indicating subspecies status, and finally Turdus eunomus.  Species status, as the cannon smoke gradually clears.

And thus, with some trepidation, do I approach the Battleground of the Wagtails.

Hakusekire (Motacilla alba)
I never saw Wagtails growing up--for whatever reason they never graced our Hickory tree (though in observing them here, I notice that I never see them in trees, always fields, parking lots, or along the river).  They were the first bird to catch my eye in Japan--darling tails wagging, showy flashes of white feathers in flight, beautiful monochrome black, grey, and white.  Common, but striking, and a joy to watch.

Wounded Wanda (Walter?  But I think Wanda)
 At first, I didn't have any idea what they were called, nor did I possess a bird book (an annoying situation--but I couldn't yet read Japanese, so the Japanese guides were of little use to me).  So... I pestered people.  "What's that bird's name?!"--and received confusing, and sometimes outright contradictory, answers.

The situation, I've discovered, is *not* helped by the fact that the common Japanese names don't match up with the English common names, and further confused by the fact that Japanese "Hakusekire" (White Wagtail) covers birds whose taxonomic names reveal them to be subspecies, or full species split off from M. alba.

What about the "black-backed race that exists in Asia" (as my mother's Birds of North America has it)?  Let me first just say that I know for a fact that I've never seen Segurosekire--the Japanese Wagtail, Motacilla grandis, a situation I hope to remedy with a few more trips to Maioka Park, where I know he hangs out.
Hakusekire...Motacilla lugens... Black-backed Wagtail (d'oh!)
Does that seem straightforward? How about this--"Segurosekire" translates into "Black-backed Wagtail"...which is what you'd *think* Motacilla grandis would be called in English.  It's not, though--as I said above, M. grandis is the Japanese Wagtail.  But wait!  There *is* a species (split off?) called the Black-backed Wagtail.  That's who I think is in the photo above--Motacilla lugens.  In Japanese, however, that bird is called "Hakusekire"--White Wagtail.  (*coughing* ... *choking*... fighting my way through thick smoke of cannon fire...)  In any case, Motacilla lugens clearly differs from M. grandis, whose head, throat, and back are entirely black, with white supercilium (eyebrow).

M. alba-male Hakusekire, White Wagtail
Now this, surely, is the White Wagtail--Motacilla alba.  Hakusekire.  The bird in the video above and photo to the right is the male.  I've been calling all the birds around here Hakusekire, because they're clearly not M. grandis (compare the faces). 

For quite a while I referred, in my bird-bookless state of confusion, to the bird in the photo as Segurosekire (wrong!)

M. alba-- female Hakusekire, White Wagtail
...and to this bird (left) as "Hakusekire" because of the coloration, and because I'd only seen them singly.   No.  I discovered, after I finally got a field guide I could read, that the birds I was seeing were not M. grandis, but M. alba.  Both of them--male and female.  I worked that out, actually, on my own by watching them in the parking lot while banging the futons.  I noticed that they tend to hang out in pairs--surely a Mommy and Daddy Wagtail.  My guidebook seemed to confirm *that* guess, at least.

Take a few deep, calming breaths and watch the female M. alba scurrying along the river (these photos and videos were taken at the same time along the Kashio River).  Isn't she sweet?  Wag, wag, wag... I never get tired of watching wagtails...

Motacilla cinerea-- Kisekire, The Grey Wagtail
 One day, quite some time ago, I saw this lovely wagtail in our river--yellow on breast and rump!  Clearly a different species, but not yet owning a field guide, I christened him myself-- Kisekire.

Grey Wagtail (M. cinerea) Kisekire, male
"Kisekire" translates to "Yellow Wagtail".  Sensible--no?  Imagine my delight when I finally got a Japanese field guide and discovered that I had hit upon the correct Japanese name all by myselfBut wait!  In English he's called... The Grey Wagtail.  And, if that weren't enough, there is in fact a Yellow Wagtail (M. flava)--but he's called the Long-Nail Wagtail in Japanese.  The taxonomic names do, however, match up here.  I won't even go into the Citrine Wagtail... Here--watch another video of my favorite Kisekire In The River.  I was o-cha toban at baseball practice that day, and just happened to have the charged up video camera with me:

Dusting off, I won't go into M. alba versus M. yarelli--the Pied Wagtail, apparently split off (given the taxonomic names), but between which there appears to be some hybridization (so oughtn't the Pied have subspecies status?  Is there not some flaunting of the biological species concept going on here?).

Never mind--here is Wounded Wanda.  Or possibly juvenile Walter (family in-joke).  I saw her while riding my bike.  I stopped (and didn't fall off), turned around, and watched her for quite a while.  Look closely at her foot--deformed?  Injured?  She didn't fly away, but approached me quite close.  I was enchanted--isn't she a pretty thing?  But I've never seen her again.  I've worried so that a cat got her...

(smoke clearing)..Mata asobou, ne!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Guessing Game

Walking back from school this morning along the river, I saw this in the empty lot behind a neighbor's house.

Any idea what this is and what's going to happen here?

Guessing Game!  I'll come back later (I have to go up to school this morning for Open House to watch my kids' classes and see whether they behave themselves and raise their hands to answer the teacher's questions)....and tell you what it is (if you don't already know).

Hmmmm....cut and folded paper suspended from twine strung around trees...

(...and no fair Mr. Harris telling what it is!  Mr. Harris has lived here for over 30 years, I think, and so must content himself with smug satisfaction;-))


 I'm home!  Did you guess?  Oooh--Martin is *very* close!  Martin gets a cookie:-))

This lot has been cleared to build a new house.  Before building, Shinto priests come and perform a purification ceremony to ward off evil spirits.  Shinto rites are very old, and even though most people do this, there's little actual superstition still attached to the rites.  It's as though the superstition has evaporated out, leaving the custom behind.  The ropes are "Shimenawa", and the papers are "gohei", a custom remaining from the time that the rope and paper were used to demarcate sacred places and keep evil spirits out.  Because, who wants evil spirits in a brand new house that doesn't even have toilet rings yet?  

I just went by the site, and they've started laying the foundation for the house (took a photo, but it's somewhat unintelligible--I couldn't get very close because of the cement mixer).   So since there's no photo of that--have a look at this!  Somebody had the foresight to video a purification ceremony and put it up on YouTube!  This ceremony is taking place inside the unfinished house: :

Parts 2 and 3 will come up after you watch part 1.  Enjoy--Mata asobou, ne!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

SpyShopper--In the Shopping Basket...And a Recipe

The first several times I went shopping for real in an actual grocery store (not in a conbini), I spent half the time surreptitiously ogling other ladies' shopping baskets to see what sorts of things they had in their baskets.  I was surprised at the number of green vegetables, the fish, the...the other stuff that I couldn't identify, but which looked to be healthy food and not junk food.  I saw far less processed food, and a great deal more ingredients to cook food.  Every time I go home, I'm surprised by the difference in what's in those baskets.  Not just the size of the basket, either--although American shopping carts are at least twice the size of the baskets I use here.  Japan is like much of Europe, in that women still tend to go shopping every day (or every other day), and so can carry their purchases around in just one basket--they don't necessarily need a cart.  Since they go every day, they tend to buy a great deal more fresh food rather than boxed or processed.

So what's up there in my basket?  Nira--garlic chive, mah favorite!  High in Vitamin A, and warming in the winter.  Do you have some shoyu (soy sauce), a little sugar, and some sake (or mirin--sweet cooking sake), and some powdered dashi (soup stock--look for "Hon Dashi")? 

If you do, here's how to make Nira no Tamago Toji (Egg With Garlic Chives) (serves 4)

300g garlic chives (one bunch, like up in the basket), sliced 4-5cm
4 eggs, beaten

120ml dashi (stock--put the powdered dashi into hot water)
1Tbsp sugar
1Tbsp shoyu
1Tbsp sake (or mirin)

Bring the soup ingredients to a boil, add the chives, and simmer until cooked (2 or 3 minutes).  Beat the eggs and pour them over the soup.  Put the lid on the saucepan and simmer until the egg is mostly cooked.
(Note:  I make this with double the amount of soup 240/2/2/2, because my kids like it.  It's fine either way.  If you're cutting the recipe in half, just use two eggs and leave the soup amount the same, 120/1/1/1).

Enjoy!  I put the recipe up, because it's no use telling you all about nifty vegetables if nobody knows what to cook with them :-))

Other things in the basket:  a Naga Negi (Allium fistulosum, Japanese bunching onion), cha-wan mushi (savory steamed egg custard--which I *could* make myself, but these were for a busy day), moyashi (bean sprouts), curry roux, ramen (ok--not everything is perfectly healthy, but the bean sprouts go on top of the ramen, so that helps...right?).

Full disclosure:  the basket photo above is Pre-Snacks!

...I also bought a bag of Nori-Shio (Laver-Salt) chips.  Number Two Best Flavor Ever (Number One is Ume-Shiso, which is not out right now--even chip flavors are seasonal here, which I like).  Note that those bags are 60grams, and there's only one other bag size of chips--130/5grams.  *Everything* is sold in smaller amounts...

...Consomme-flavor chips, a close runner-up.  These are so much tastier than barbecue!

...A seasonal flavor:  Wasa-beef (wasabi & beef), which I haven't actually tried yet, mainly because I don't think the kids will eat them.  I *have* tried Wasabi & Mayo, which were very nice, if a bit spicy-spicy in the nose...

...I also got some Ume-Kombu (dried kelp with ume powder), on the left....

...but decided to forgo the little dried Iwashi snacks this time (yes--kids really do eat these.  Kittehs, too.  And crawdads.)

Maybe next time...:-))

Oishiso, desho! (looks delicious, doesn't it!)

Mata asobou,  ne!

SpyShopper--Vending Machines for Vices

When I arrived in Japan (many moons ago now), I was astounded, just astounded, to see vending machines...with cigarettes in them.  Not that I thought that cigarette machines didn't exist--no, I'm old enough to remember them in America (and as for how long ago *that* was, I haven't sufficient fingers and toes to work that out).

Be that as it may, I certainly recall those old, dark brown, somewhat squat, rectangular machines with the single row of pull-handles.  My parents still smoked (as did everybody else back in the late Cretaceous), and I'm pretty sure the reason I remember the pull-handles is because I was allowed to pull them after my dad had put the money in.  Of course, by the time I arrived in Japan in 1997, these sorts of machines had gone extinct in America--so I was surprised to discover a residual population of them in Japan.  The populations appear to have interbred at some point--note the Marlboros and the Winstons;-))

Vendingium japonica

...And then there are these unusual specimens, which are (to the best of my knowledge) endemic to Japan.  I've certainly never seen a vending machine with beer in it--not even in Germany, though the cup sake on the right immediately pegs this one as a Japanese cultivar...

The Age of Adulthood in Japan is 20--in fact every January (around the 15th) is the Coming of Age ceremony for all young adults who will turn 20 during that year.  These secular ceremonies are held all over Japan, and are a fairly big deal.  Girls get *really* dressed up in elaborate silk kimono (no photo--if they still have some in the kimono shop in Daiei, I'l  take a picture today and post it) with long sleeves for unmarried women, fur stoles and muffs, hand-stitched bags, and such.  They get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to go get their hair specially done for this (at least, according to my daughter's kindergarten teacher they do.  That's what time *she* got up).  Upon attaining the age of 20, the new adults may legally vote, and purchase alcohol and tobacco.  I knew that 20 was the drinking and smoking age even before I knew about the Coming of Age ceremonies, because all cigarette and alcohol vending machines come helpfully labeled with these:

Ooooh--the sign says we can't buy these until we're twenty!  Right, guess we'll just have to wait then....

Seriously?  "Underage smoking is prohibited by law", according to the helpful sticker there, plastered importantly across the bottom of the machine.  I was, and am, mystified by the existence of these machines.  In supermarkets, the situation is even more bizarre (if that's possible).

Every time I go to Daiei (the closest supermarket, around the corner), I am struck anew by the fact that there are cigarettes for sale in locked plexiglass cases in front of several of the registers, and a cigarette vending machine less than ten feet away on the other side of the registers....

Honestly--anyone else reading this who has spent time in Japan, if you know the reason for this, *do* let me know.  This sort of thing keeps me awake at night--and lord knows that sleeping in a room on futons with three kids rolling over me all night, I get little enough of that.  I'd be much obliged to anyone who could put this particular conundrum to rest:-))