David Chart's Japan Diary

April 15th 2005

I really don't know when I will be able to upload this diary entry; almost certainly not today, but the latest should be next Tuesday, when I am supposed to be getting cable internet in my room. Thus the fact that you don't remember seeing it when you checked on the 15th is not a sign of failing mental capacity. Not necessarily, anyway.

This week has, as predicted, been rather less busy than the previous one. It started off busy enough, as I finished the other editing job that I mentioned. Still, I was able to take Saturday evening and Sunday off; more on that later. Since then, my time has been occupied with various things. I've been keeping up with my reading, and trying to catch up with Nature, as I fell more than six months behind. (I'm now less than five months behind, so I'm getting there). I've also been doing bits of editing work, and correspondence relating to work, although that's been fairly low key. Getting the new flat straight has continued; I'm very nearly there now, and may try to get it finished today.

One of the major activities, however, has been preparing for the game of Ars Magica I will be playing in next weekend. Normally, this would be a minor thing, a pleasant distraction. I just have to create a couple of grogs (minor characters), and pay attention to the emails that the other players are sending back and forth so that I know what's going on when I get there.

Of course, we'll be playing in Japanese.

All the other players are Japanese, although since they are playing from the English rules (no Japanese translation yet), their English is obviously pretty good. Thus, all the correspondence related to the game is in Japanese. It still takes me quite a while to read a long character description email in Japanese. My original plan was to catch up with the email (that got shelved while I was busy, as well) before creating my characters, but I've had to give up on that; it would have delayed character creation for far too long. Now I'm just hoping to be able to catch up with the emails before the first session. I'd have more chance if they'd stop writing so much.

Although I commented last week on the vast amount of time I'd have, I don't seem to have as much as I imagined. One reason for this is that I'm shifting my daily schedule significantly towards the night. Yuriko, working at a Japanese company, almost never gets back from work before nine, so the schedule necessary for school, which involved me going to bed some time around ten, would have basically made it impossible to meet during the week. Since my schedule is flexible, and hers isn't, I'm flexing.

The other reason, though, is the tendency of time to disappear when it isn't structured. (And, in part, the tendency of reading Japanese emails to consume utterly unreasonable-seeming amounts of time.) That's fine this week, since I'm sort of on break, but from next week I shall have to start sorting out my new working schedule, to make sure I get everything necessary done.

Ugh. Self-discipline.

So, back to the weekend, when I had some time to spend with Yuriko. We had dinner on Saturday night, to celebrate both my new home and my visa, at yet another restaurant in the coupon book that she has. The food was, again, very pleasant, and I investigated more efficient ways to get around Tokyo from where I live.

On Sunday, we went cherry blossom viewing.

Cherry blossom viewing, 'ohanami' in Japanese, is a very traditional Japanese activity. It does involve looking at the cherry trees and commenting on how beautiful they are, but mainly it involves a picnic, of varying degrees of sophistication, and a group of friends, of varying size, and a relaxed social event sitting in a park in pleasant weather, with nothing for company but the blossoms... and all the other people doing exactly the same thing.

Cherry trees, after all, only blossom for one week. That means that there's only one weekend, and almost everyone has to go ohanami-ing on the weekend. So, over the course of two days, a high proportion of the population of Japan visits the parks close to them famous for their cherry blossoms.

Yuriko and cherry blossoms Yuriko and some of the cherry blossoms on the walk to the park.

Yuriko had tickets to an exhibition at Setagaya Art Museum, which happens to be in a park famous for its cherry trees. Thus, the plan was set; see the blossoms in that park, and then go to the museum. The park is some distance away, and at first blush it looked like we'd have to change trains about four times. Slightly more careful examination of the maps revealed that, if we walked to a particular station, we'd only have to change trains once. As an added bonus, the walk was along the river that runs outside Yuriko's house, which, while it is a concrete canal now, is lined with cherry trees at quite a few places. At one particular place a canny seller had an open room at a flat for sale, overlooking the blossoms.

Me and our picnic Me, with the delicious sandwiches. The cherry blossoms are overhead, although you can see fallen petals on the ground.

The weather on Sunday was glorious, clear and bright but not too hot, so the walk was very pleasant. The trains to the nearest station to the park were reliable, but then they were Japanese trains. From the station to the park there was a 'promenade', where the local authorities had made a clearly marked and, what's the best word, 'decorated' route. There are little streams and pools, cherry trees, benches, and so on, so that part of the walk was also pleasant.

The park itself was, of course, crowded, with a particularly high density of people sitting under the cherry trees. We found a nice spot and joined them, eating out picnic of bacon cheese salad sandwiches. Home-made, of course, and the bacon was particularly delicious. Partly because I was responsible for that bit, but partly because I have a grill here, and didn't in Okazaki, and grilled bacon is much, much nicer than fried.

After a leisurely lunch we went to the museum. The exhibition was of the collection of a Japanese poet and art critic. Whose name I appear to have forgotten. Takizawa, perhaps. Something a bit like that, anyway. This critic appears to have known just about all the surrealists. Miro did him some poem illustrations, and wrote a condolence letter to his wife when he died. Man Ray took photographs for him. Basically, there were works by someone I'd heard of in every room of the extensive exhibition, and I'm not particularly knowledgeable about twentieth century art.

The ticket also covered the exhibition of the permanent collection, which included three large paintings of the night sky, called Faith, Hope, and Love, one associated with each of Dusk, Midnight, and Dawn. They were very effective, and I must see whether Yuriko still has the leaflet for the exhibition so that I can remind myself of the artist, and of which was which.

My mind is clearly going in my old age.

As a complete side-note, Japanese names are deeply unfair. Imagine, if you will, that you are six years old, and have just started school. You are learning to write your name. The teacher is giving each pupil an example to copy.

"Here you are, Tanaka-chan: 田中

Hayashi-kun: 林

Yamashita-kun: 山下

Ah, Endo-chan. Here you are: 遠藤"

You might feel that there are more lines in your name than in all your friends' names put together. You would be right.

If I ever take a Japanese pen-name, I'm going to take one that's easy to write.