Colds

We all have colds at the moment. In my case or Yuriko’s case, that just means the usual feeling under the weather. Mayuki, however, has been sick twice in the night (including on me, last night). As you might imagine, that doesn’t help with us getting the lots of sleep that colds demand, so I’m really not feeling on the top of my game at the moment.

This is my excuse for not having written up the rest of our Kanazawa trip yet. It was pencilled in for today, but that really wasn’t happening.

Sorry about that.

Back to Immigration

I went to the immigration office again today, to submit some more papers. A couple of days ago, the office called me in the morning, to ask about our move. I don’t know whether the ward office tells them automatically, or whether they had asked, but in any case, they had found out before I’d worked down the list of people I needed to tell. (Normally, you don’t need to tell immigration when you move, just the local authority. Obviously, things are different when you’re in the middle of a visa application, which is why they were on my list.) They confirmed that Yuriko and Mayuki were moving with me, because that really matters when applying for permanent residence on the grounds that you are married to a Japanese citizen. They also asked when Yuriko would get home, because she was at work at the time.

Then they called back in the evening, confirming that they’d sent the letter requesting the additional documents, and then asked to speak to Yuriko. As we were eating dinner, I just passed the phone across the table. This was, I suspect, a check on whether I was really living with her, as I said. They confirmed her name and date of birth, which is a fairly rough-and-ready test, but probably enough if you have no reason to be suspicious. There’s been a bit of fuss in the media recently over fake marriages for immigration purposes, so they may be tightening things up a bit.

The letter arrived yesterday, and they needed Yuriko and Mayuki’s JÅ«minhyō (official residence record), the official record of my alien registration, and a letter confirming my contact telephone number. Posting them was OK, but I prefer to go to immigration and hand them over, so I know they’ve actually made it. Of course, this meant going to immigration (which isn’t far), and then waiting more than an hour for something that took about thirty seconds. This is a very busy time at immigration, because the Japanese academic and financial years start in April, so a lot of people are renewing and changing their visas. I normally try to avoid going around now, but there wasn’t really any choice when they wrote to me.

Anyway, when I was talking to them on the phone, they said that it would take another two or three months for my application to be processed. That would make it about a year since I applied. The fact that they are still asking for information suggests that I’ve not been rejected yet, so maybe I’ll get permanent residence this time.

Mount Fuji

I mentioned before that we were supposed to be able to see Mount Fuji from our flat. Well, a few days ago the weather was clear, so I was able to confirm this. As you can see from the photograph, it is possible to see Mount Fuji from our flat.

A landscape that purportedly includes Mount Fuji, with a big helpful arrow

You can see it, can't you?

OK, maybe it’s a little too small in the photograph, even with a bit of help. Here’s a photograph I took by zooming in a bit.

Mount Fuji, above other mountains, in close-up

Can you see it now?

Actually, when you’re looking, it’s quite clear. A couple of days ago we were there in the evening, discussing the redecoration and such, and there was a very nice silhouette of Mount Fuji as the sun set behind it. On clear days, it will be a nice feature of the flat.

The blog has been a bit neglected, because we are having to sort out exactly what we are having done, as well as doing normal work and sorting out address changes. We’re a bit busy at the moment, even more so than normal. I really hope it will settle down in April.

Nature-Asia Publishing Index

Nature Asia-Pacific has just launched the Nature-Asia Publishing Index, which analyses the papers published in all of the Nature group of journals by researchers working at institutions in the Asia-Pacific region, including India and Australasia. The data is interesting, because the Nature journals are very important primary research journals, so they give some idea of the spread of high-quality basic research in the region, both by country and by institution. It’s not surprising that Japan is still top, by a significant margin, but Singapore does very well for its size, and China is moving up rapidly.

The other interesting thing here is the value of this to the Nature group. Because the index undeniably does have value, policy-makers in the region are likely to use it. That means that moving up the index is likely to directly benefit institutions. And that means that, all else being equal, researchers at those institutions are going to submit to a Nature journal, rather than one that isn’t in the index. In other words, it should give the Nature journals a slight edge over journals of comparable Impact Factor in the competition for the best papers from the Asia-Pacific region. I do wonder how much that drove the decision making. The commercial benefit is likely to be minimal; the journals are already important enough that no serious institution could manage without a subscription. However, the prestige benefit could be quite important.

Incidentally, five of the top ten institutions in the region are Japanese. The University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Osaka University, RIKEN, and Tohoku University. Kyushu and Keio are at eleven and twelve.

The data did immediately make me wonder what a global version of the index would look like. The USA would dominate in much the way that Japan dominates this one, but the lower places would be more interesting. I wonder whether the rest of the Nature group is thinking about doing something similar.

Kanazawa, Day One

So, last weekend we went to Kanazawa, and had a really good time. Mayuki was good, and apparently enjoying herself, for most of it, with only one tantrum, and that on the last day. Kanazawa is a lovely city, well worth a visit. In particular, Yuriko and I both thought that my mother would really enjoy it.

We went there by train, first getting the Joetsu shinkansen, and then changing to a limited express. The transfer station is up in the mountains, so there was a lot of snow around, and some nice scenery. However, there were also a lot of tunnels, so it wasn’t the best train journey Japan has to offer. However, I did get to see the Japan Sea, as the line runs very close to the coast for a substantial distance. I think this fills in the last big gap in my travels around Japan; the Japan Sea coast was the only region I hadn’t been to. Mayuki also fell asleep on the express train, and got a good couple of hours before we got to Kanazawa.

Once we had arrived, we had lunch at the station (which was quite nice, and thus the worst meal we had on the holiday) before going to our ryokan. We were staying at Sumiyoshi-ya, a family-run ryokan right in the centre of Kanazawa. The woman currently in charge is the ninth generation of her family to run it; the ryokan has been in business for 360 years. The current building, however, is only about a hundred years old, although it has been refurbished (obviously…). It felt very much like a family business, as well; very friendly. It only has thirteen rooms, and since we were there on weekdays in the depths of the off-season we were almost the only guests; I think there was one other group each night, although the other groups changed every day. We had dinner there on the first night, which was good, and served in our room, and breakfast every day, which Yuriko described as good home cooking, a description I think is fair. The location is great; it’s within walking distance of just about every attraction, and of the railway station. We did most of our sightseeing on foot, although not quite all. In any case, if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Kanazawa, I recommend it, and as they have an English homepage I imagine that they can cope in English. (We spoke Japanese all the time, so I wouldn’t know.)

We didn’t actually do anything on the Sunday; it was a bit too late to do anything but relax, and buy Mayuki some milk. So we stayed at the ryokan, and sorted out our detailed plans for the next three days, including where we wanted to eat lunch and dinner.

The sightseeing started on Monday. First, we went to Kanazawa Castle Park, which is about two minutes’ walk from Sumiyoshi-ya. (You pass the post office on the way, a good place to withdraw money.) Kanazawa was the capital of one of the largest domains in Edo-period Japan, Kaga, and its lords, the Maeda, were extremely wealthy. They also spent most of their money on the arts, because they were, historically, rivals of the ruling Tokugawa, and so were always viewed with some suspicion. Spending money on the arts was a way to assert themselves without drawing the ire of the shogun. As a result, their castle was, originally, quite spectacular. Unfortunately, being a Japanese building, it burned down. A handful of outbuildings survived, but over the last ten years or so the city has been building replicas of part of the castle.

David, Yuriko, and Mayuki in front of an old Japanese building

Us, in front of a storeroom, one of the buildings that survives from the original castle.

We visited the main one of these, a long storeroom connecting two watchtowers, and it was very interesting to see all the details of how the wooden beams were put together, and the castle walls constructed. It’s also quite a nice park, with lots of open space, but it was very cold, so we weren’t very much into playing. We did, however, walk round and look at all the surviving buildings, some of which are Japanese Important Cultural Properties. They were only warehouses, but they were still built with a great attention to detail. It does make you wonder what the residence of the daimyo was like. Japanese castles are very different from English ones (as well as being, on average, several centuries newer), so visiting them is always interesting.

Yuriko and Mayuki sitting at a table, doing Kaga Yuzen dyeing

Practising Kaga Yuzen together

The next stop was the Kaga Yuzen Traditional Industry Hall. Kaga Yuzen is a particular form of cloth dyeing, and it is used in high-quality kimonos, which is why Yuriko wanted to go here. They have an exhibition, but they also offer hands-on experience. Of course, the process is highly simplified, so that people with no experience can produce something good in fifteen minutes, but it’s still worth doing if you have an interest. Yuriko did, so I was to watch Mayuki while Yuriko did her dyeing. Of course, Mayuki wanted to try as well. The attendant kindly gave Mayuki a brush, so I had to watch her like a hawk, so make sure that she only dyed the newspaper on the table, and not her clothes. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t wash out, after all.

Fortunately, Mayuki managed to play without making a mess, and Yuriko completed a nice floral design on a handkerchief.

That brought us to lunch time, which we had at Sakura Jaya, a Japanese-style cafe very close to the Castle Park, the Kaga Yuzen hall, and Kenrokuen, where we were going afterwards. This was advertised in the guidebook with a picture of the green tea parfait, so after we had the main course (I had a box lunch, Yuriko had a duck dish), we naturally had to order that. It looked just like the picture, and tasted great. We ordered one between two…

Yuriko and Mayuki in front of the Kotoji Lantern

Yuriko and Mayuki, and the symbol of Kenrokuen

After lunch, we went to Kenrokuen, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. It is the garden of the Maeda lords (which is why it’s next to the castle), and was created over 150 years. I’d say it lives up to the hype; I can’t say that it’s definitely one of the three best in Japan, but it certainly could be. It has a lot of ponds and streams, with tea houses and stone lanterns dotted around gentle hills and winding paths, all among great pine trees. There are other trees and plants as well, and the ume (Japanese apricot) trees were in bloom while we were there. This is appropriate, as the house badge (kamon) of the Maeda lords was the ume flower.

The most famous stone lantern in the park is the Kotoji Lantern, the one you can see behind Yuriko and Mayuki in the photograph. It’s famous because it has only two legs, and they are different lengths, as one (the more visible one) rests on a boulder. This apparently makes it unique, and thus instantly recognisable as Kenrokuen, rather than another garden. The image appears in quite a lot of places, such as as the mascot character for NHK Kanazawa.

Even on a cold day in March, Kenrokuen was not exactly quiet, but it wasn’t busy, which meant that we could enjoy it. Mayuki liked picking the gravel up off the path and throwing it into the streams, so she had to be picked up a bit, but then she got into playing letting us walk ahead, then shouting “Waaaaait!” and charging after us. When she reached us, she’d stop and send us ahead again, ready to do it again. We had some tea in one of the tea houses (Shiguretei), and we were the only people there when we arrived, although a few more people arrived before we finished. The screens were closed against the cold, but we were able to go out through them afterwards, and see the beautiful view across the lake.

Right next to Kenrokuen is Seisonkaku, a retirement villa for the mothers of the Maeda daimyo. The current structure was built just before the end of the Edo period, in 1863, and includes some glass imported from Europe. It’s a very elegant building, but it doesn’t seem to have made a great impression on me. I think I may have been keeping an eye on Mayuki; she actually fell asleep while we were looking round here. Photography is not permitted inside the building, which is why there are no photos of it here.

Red torii beyond a purification font

The red torii at Kanazawa shrine, from in front of the purification font

Sandwiched between Kenrokuen and Seisonkaku is Kanazawa Shrine. Yuriko agreed to hold Mayuki while I had a look around, took some photographs, and got the shrine’s red stamp in my book. I’ll probably post about the shrine again later, with a bit more detail, but, as you can see from the picture, the shrine uses a lot of vermillion. That’s another sign of sponsorship by a wealthy family.

We started walking home after the shrine, and Mayuki woke up, so we were able to drop into a Kutani pottery shop. Kutani ware is another famous product of Kanazawa; something else that the Maeda spent their money on. Yuriko bought a souvenir, and Mayuki, while very interested, managed not to break anything.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant (Omicho Kaisendonburiya Hirai) in Kanazawa’s Omi market, which seems to be the main market for the city. It’s also right behind the ryokan, so it was very convenient. Yuriko and I both had Kaisendon, or fresh sea food on a bowl of rice. It was very fresh, and the portions were very generous. Most of the fish was raw, but that just makes it tastier. It was certainly better than you would get for the same price in Tokyo, and included a number of local specialities. Yuriko commented that she’d like to eat there every day, but it was just a little too expensive for that.

And then, we went to bed.

Fresh sea food, completely hiding the rice in the bowl

Dinner

Back Home

We’ve just got back from a three-night, four-day trip to Kanazawa, on the Japan Sea side of Japan. We all had a great time; Yuriko said she did, and Mayuki seemed to enjoy herself most of the time, apart from one tantrum today, when she decided she didn’t want to wear her jacket.

I took lots and lots of photographs, so I’ll do some more detailed blog entries in the near future.

First Rabbit Festival

Mayuki standing in front of a torii, on which there is a straw snake

Mayuki at Shirahata-san

Today was this year’s First Rabbit Festival at Shirahata-san. Because it is held on the first day of the rabbit in March, I always have to ask when it is. (I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but the animals of the Chinese zodiac are used for days as well as years.) Fortunately, I could attend today, and only had to rearrange one lesson. The weather wasn’t great, so at first I was going to go alone, but then I decided to ask Mayuki if she wanted to come. Her response was an enthusiastic “Yes!”, so we went to together. Yuriko stayed home, and apparently got lots done while Mayuki wasn’t here.

When we got to the shrine, we paid our respects as normal, and then Mayuki was ready to go home, as normal. I had to explain to her that there was a special ceremony today, and that we were going to stay to see it. I convinced her, but then the priest started beating the drum to mark the start of the ceremony, and Mayuki was frightened. I picked her up and held her, but she really didn’t want to go anywhere near the shrine building at that point, so I couldn’t see that part of the ceremony very well. Not that I imagine it was very different from last year, or the year before.

After the main part of the ceremony, they had the part where they shoot arrows at the targets. The two small boys who were supposed to play a major role were not desperately interested in doing so, so it was all done by the ujiko, both the ceremonial bamboo bows, and the rather more usable proper bows. By this time, it had started raining properly again, so Mayuki and I decided to go home.

I rather hope that, by taking her to ceremonies at the shrine, I’ll get her used to it, so that she can enjoy her own three-year ceremony in the autumn. We’ll see whether that works.

New Flat

Yesterday we handed over the money and became the owners of our new flat. Well, new to us; it’s actually twice the age of the current one, and very close to it. So, why are we moving? The new flat has an extra room.

Mayuki standing in the corner of a Japanese-style room

Our tatami-mat room. You might just be able to see the colour change where the furniture used to be.

We had to go to Yokohama to borrow a room in a bank (the bank that gave me the mortgage) where we could transfer enormous amounts of money to the relevant people, including the estate agents, insurance companies, the scrivener who was changing the deeds, and, of course, the previous owners of the flat, who got this month’s ground rent/service charge and the remainder of this year’s property tax as well as the remainder of the price of the flat itself. That was straightforward, although it did take an hour to get all the paperwork done. (So, now not only have I received a Japanese mortgage, I’ve spent it.)

On the way back, I submitted my tax return. It’s been a busy few months.

Anyway, shortly after we got home Yuriko’s friend from university came over. He’s an architect, and is in charge of the remodelling we’re going to have done.

[I’ve just lost more than half of the blog entry. The log-in cookie expired while I was writing, so the autosave stopped working, and when I tried to save the draft, I was sent to the log-in window and the text vanished. This is a bug in WordPress, which I will have to report when I have time.]

A cityscape beyond which you cannot see Mt. Fuji

On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji from the Japanese-style room. Yesterday wasn't clear.

The new flat is in a danchi. These are large complexes of flats built in the 1970s, while Japan’s economy was booming and everyone was moving to the cities. Unlike the equivalent structures in the UK, they have not turned into sink estates. They are, however, generally very big for the price, because they are getting old, and Japanese people like new houses. Because they were built for people moving out of traditional Japanese homes, with lots of tatami matting, they all had tatami rooms. Our flat has one such room left, but it quite possibly hasn’t been redecorated since the danchi was built, so one part of the remodelling will be renovating that. We’re going to leave it Japanese-style, however, because I’ve wanted a tatami room since I got to Japan.

We’re also planning to put a partition in the living room, to create an area where Mayuki can make train layouts, or doll dioramas, or lego constructions, and leave them up for days at a time. The main other work is likely to be a counter area in the kitchen, for cooking and eating breakfast, lunch, and some dinners. More formal dinners will be eaten in the tatami room, we think.

The room nearest the entrance is going to be my office, and I’m going to teach in there. That should mean that my evening lessons won’t interrupt Yuriko and Mayuki’s normal activities, and thus should make their lives significantly easier, particularly as Mayuki gets bigger.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the place looks like after remodelling. I think it will look much more interesting than it does now.