Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Japanese Language Edition of the Final "Harry Potter" Book is Released...

I'm not a fan of the Harry Potter series. I read the first one and found it yawnworthy. But don't let my lack of enthusiasm cause you to underestimate the Japanese popularity of the World's Most Famous Boy Wizard (copyright and trademark J.K. Rowling). The movies have been big events here so far and practically every bookstore with English-language stock in town had a special Potter display when the last book came out a year or so ago. Potter fans (Pot-heads?) live throughout Japan, part of a massive international community devoted to this thrilling fantasy world.

And now Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is hitting the shelves once again, but this time in Japanese.

In a scene reminiscent of those worldwide during the book's initial release, fans lined up a day in advance. And many of them wore Potter-related costumes. I'd love to see the photos. I think some people here don't need much of an excuse to indulge in cosplay and the hardcore fan-people tend to do it up in extraordinarily detailed fashion here. Even the book's translator, Matsuoka Yuko, came dressed as a witch to enjoy the magical festivities.

I know a few Japanese Potter fans for whom this is going to be delightful news indeed. Although most of them are more fans of the films than the books and are eagerly awaiting the fall premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Now I'm going to go out on a limb and make a magical prognostication of my own. After ingesting a magical potion, I can see the future and now fearlessly predict billions of yen flowing into J.K. Rowling's bank account over the rest of this year...

Enjoy the magical fun, Japanese Potter fans!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hideo Nomo Retires...

That's all for veteran pitcher Hideo Nomo (or, in Japan, Nomo Hideo). The 39-year-old just announced his retirement from the Kansas City Royals. Winning the 1995 National League Rookie of the Year when he debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Nomo proved that Japanese ballplayers could compete at the highest level in the American major leagues. Employing a unique tornado-twist delivery throughout his career, he pitched 2 historical no-hitters. His first was not only the first for a Japanese pitcher in MLB, but also the first at Coors Field, and his second was the first at Camden Yards.

Nomo paved the way for stars like Suzuki "No Nickname" Ichiro and Matsui "Godzilla" Hideki, plus an influx of top-notch baseball talent from Japan and Korea. Just as African-American and Latin American ballplayers reinvigorated the sport and rewrote the record books before them, Asian players create excitement and increase diversity in our venerable game. It may not be America's pastime anymore, and soccer may be the world's favorite sport, but I'm happy baseball is becoming truly international at last.

Any movement that raises the level of play in my favorite sport or adds interest is welcome. So a tip of the cap to Nomo Hideo, big thanks... and good luck to you!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Prison Fashion in Japan...

I haven't seen this in Hamamatsu yet, but according to a story on, fashions made by young prisoners in Hokkaido are becoming popular in Japan. As part of their rehabilitation program, the inmates at Hakodate Juvenile Prison make totebags and aprons printed with the Japanese character for "jail" and the ultra-cool because it's an English word "PRISON," and they're catching on. Especially with the staff at one Shinjuku bar.

The main thing I came away with after reading that article is... there is no way the woman in that photo is 52 years old. What magic fountain has she been drinking from? What's next- wearing prison fashions made by juvenile offenders keeps you perpetually youthful?

The Japanese Bus Hijacking, July 16, 2008

Japanese police in Aichi prefecture are holding a 14-year-old boy for allegedly hijacking a JR bus at knifepoint. The boy told officials he wanted to "run away." Or, alternately, he did it to "cause trouble to his parents, who had scolding him."

The boy was from Yamaguchi prefecture, but he seems to have started the trouble in Okazaki and was arrested there in Aichi, which is Shizuoka's neighbor. So it's practically local news. I heard about this yesterday during my Bentenjima class and completely forgot to look it up last night after work. So here you have it this morning. Fortunately no one was injured in what seems to have been a stupid stunt or call for attention from a troubled young man.

I think I've been to Okazaki. It was a long time ago, and so much has happened since then I can't be sure. Seems like that was the first place I tried Indian food way back in my life before my present life. If it is the city I'm thinking of, it's home to one of the best Indian buffets in the area and it's much larger than I thought.

After doing some further reading on Okazaki, I found the account of Miss Okazaki, a friendship doll the people of the city sent to America in 1928. Here's an excerpt from the mayor's farewell speech to Miss Okazaki (the idea of which I admit choked me up a little):

Miss Okazaki, you are going far across the sea to America just as Miss Ruth and Mr. Lincoln have come to Japan. Please carry to the children of America a message of good will and friendship from the children of Japan. Miss Aichi and others have gone before you. I hope that you will all work together and show the true worth of Japanese dolls by doing well your great errand of love. I wish you a fair and prosperous journey.

Anyway, back on topic- you should watch the BBC video in that first link. You'll get to see Japanese police working a crime scene (in this case a huge highway bus) by a busy expressway on a broiling summer's day. The official announcement for the ending of rainy season hasn't come yet but it seems pretty obvious we've reached high summer- temperatures are in the lower 90s and humidity is off the scale. I'm sure those guys were miserable out there on the asphalt.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Boom! Boom! Boom! Watching Fireworks in Bentenjima, July 5, 2008

The show lasted about an hour and a half. I'm pretty pleased with my little Fuji FinePix camera's ability to handle low light conditions. Now that I know a little more about it, I can't wait to see Melt-Banana again to get more apocalyptic shots. They're sort of the audiovisual equivalent of these fireworks.

Enjoying Fireworks is Easier with Friends: July 5, 2008

My friend wore a gorgeous navy blue and white yukata with a parasol print. She looked like she'd stepped right out of some Edo Period artwork. A lot of others wore more bright, candy-colored yukata with floral prints. Yellows and pinks and reds with green. Which is fine and cute, but I prefered this more elegant look.

If only the photographer had done her justice!

We watched the fireworks at someone's house, just off the water and not far from the Singing Bridge and the festival area. This house was huge by Japanese standards because it was not only living space but also had been their bakery shop (the ovens/factory were about a kilometer away but they've long since vanished). After they closed shop, they converted it into a living room. Upstairs is a fully-equipped English classroom.

It's quite a lovely home and they certainly made us feel welcome. In the former shop, which is now a comfortable space with nicknacks in cupboards, a low sofa and a carpeted floor, they'd laid out a massive spread of sushi, watermelon, oranges, cherries, beer and soft drinks and more. We sat on pillows around the food-covered coffeetable and I ate like a hobbit at his most rapacious. Yeah, I made a pig of myself.

After dinner, as the sun set and twilight came on, we took benches from the classroom out onto the railed roof, plus some beer on ice and enjoyed the sky-flower show.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Getting to the Bentenjima Hanabi Matsuri, July 5, 2008...

Down at the station on a hazy, steamy July day, these junior high kids were tuning up for a performance:

Dads and moms prepared to videotape every musical moment of their kids' orchestral movements in the afternoon:

In the meantime, the station was bustling with festival-goers, because the massive Bentenjima Hanabi Matsuri was on and the weather was conducive to eating lots of yakitori and takoyaki and watching explosions in the night sky:

As crowded and hectic as things were, the station staff had it all pretty much under control. There were special ropes out guiding people in a snaking line and it only took us about 5 minutes to buy my ticket. My smarter, prettier friend had already purchased a train pass a while back. We had to stand on the train, though.

If you look at this next photo, you'll see to the left the community center where I teach on Wednesday afternoons. This bridge is the famous Bentenjima Singing Bridge. It actually sings to you as you cross it on a windy day. The song is pretty monotonous, with lyrics consisting only of "Ooooooooo..." but still:

Below, people gathered in the main festival area:

In the waters of Lake Hamana, you can see the big red torii (temple gate). And boats lying at anchor in anticipation of the pyrotechnics.

You don't see a lot of people swimming here, although there's a nice hotel right up against the water. Bentenkan... since 1998.

Here's a better view of the shore, with the torii:

And another one:

The square-ish building in the foreground was just built recently. Behind it is Bentenkan and some apartments. Those places have amazing views almost daily. But the view on this night would be extra-spectacular:

And here's a lovely postcard-like shot I took of the sun setting over Lake Hamana:

Next time I'll post some photos of the actual fireworks. We didn't go down into the crowds because we had a nice house to go to, and sushi to eat, so there won't be any photos of the craziness among the food stands.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Still More Bentenjima Fireworks...

Here are 6 minutes and 30 seconds of the Bentenjima hanabi matsuri, July 5, 2008. I edited together a few of the previous clips and some "recently discovered" footage.

The end result is frequently monotonous unless you're a real hardcore fireworks fanatic, but the climax is quite exciting.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

More Bentenjima Fireworks: July 5, 2008

Here's another video I made of the Bentenjima fireworks festival. I think Kitano Takeshi already made a much better movie with the same title, but my version is shorter and features a good friend of mine wearing a yukata in the foreground. But I haven't seen Kitano's movie yet, so for all I know it also features a good friend of mine wearing a yukata in the foreground.

Now let's watch as the good people of Bentenjima light up the summer sky:

Bentenjima Fireworks Festival: July 5, 2008

Let's see if this works. I went to the Bentenjima Hanabi Matsuri this weekend and tried to use my Fuji FinePix camera to take some video.

Every so often during the show, the announcer would begin a countdown, we would hear a thump and then a small star would start rising into the night sky, only to explode with a massive burst of sparks and after a delay a blast and concussion we could feel from all the way across the water. It felt like a gentle push against the chest and knees:

The show went on for about an hour. I believe I was told there were 3000 shells used, down from 10000 a few years ago when Bentenjima's community finances were better. But this could be the result of miscommunication.

People tell me the Bentenjima fireworks are some of the best in Shizuoka, but others insist Fukuroi's are supreme. Other than these, I've only seen Toyohashi's. And those were good enough for me, but they really can't compete with Bentenjima's air bursts reflected in the dancing waters of Lake Hamana, with boats floating beneath.