David Chart's Japan Diary

January 9th 2006

Happy New Year!

So what's my excuse this time? Actually, it's the one I've been using repeatedly; I've been away again. Some people might think I've been having too many holidays recently, and I'm one of them; I'm going to be very busy with writing for the next couple of months, to catch up on my schedule. Fortunately, teaching and editing are both on schedule, so I'm only racing to catch up with one thing.

Teaching is actually going very well. The week before I went away, I had as many teaching hours as I wanted, for the first time. A couple of those hours were a one-off, and several more were from an irregular student, so I'm still looking for more regular students. I am, however, pretty close to where I wanted to be, which is good. It suggests that I will be able to maintain that level over time.

The reason for all the holidays, of course, is that I need to introduce Yuriko to the various members of my family. In the case of the Californian half of the family, getting them all to Japan is simply not practical, so we had to go to them. That is where we were over Christmas and New Year.

Once again, we had a very nice time. The weather was generally typically Californian, with just one day of torrential rain. (We went shopping.) I always like staying with Dad and Joy, and fortunately Yuriko also enjoyed it. Everyone made appropriate noises about my choice of wife, and I choose to believe that they meant them. I certainly agree with their assessments of her.

We flew out on Christmas Eve. When I was young, it always felt like Christmas Eve was twice as long as any normal day. This year, for the first time, it was. Well, nearly. The flight from Japan to California crosses the dateline, so we arrived several hours before we left. We did very little on that day, just saying hello to Dad and Joy, to Peg, an old friend of Dad's who was also spending Christmas there, and to Hilly and Eric, who dropped by.

We slept well that night, which was just as well because Christmas Day was very full. Everyone comes to Dad's for Christmas. All of Joy's children, their spouses, their children, their spouses' siblings, their spouses' siblings' children, Dad's brother, his spouse, his spouse's child... In all, there were about twenty people for dinner. Before dinner, however, we exchanged presents. We got some very nice things, including a digital piano from Dad and Joy. (The piano, of course, was back here in Japan; it wouldn't quite fit in our luggage.) Much of the fun, however, was watching Heather's two small children tear into their presents with great enthusiasm.

Christmas dinner was very good, as expected. We had a chance to talk to more people, who were very keen to meet Yuriko and talk to her. She got a lot of good English practice over the fortnight. After dinner, we had a complicated present-exchange game, where you got to pick presents from a pile in a random order. You could also steal a present from someone else. I ended up with a Barnes and Noble Gift Card (books!). For some reason, Yuriko picked a huge box full of food. I was highly sceptical of the possibility of getting any of it home with us.

From Christmas night, jetlag hit. We both woke up around 2am, and were unable to get back to sleep. After a while, we got up, opened the big box of food, and had a midnight feast. We did get back to sleep, but slept quite late, a pattern that continued for much of the rest of the holiday.

Boxing Day was quiet, which was a very good thing. We were both shattered, and I don't think anyone else was much more awake.

On the 27th, we went to the Getty Center. This is an amazing art gallery, built on a hill in Los Angeles. Getting there involves driving up the freeway, and then coming off the freeway and getting into the car park. The latter part took very nearly as long as getting the hundred miles or so up the freeway; there were a lot of people trying to visit.

The architecture and gardens of the Getty are almost as big a draw as the contents. Indeed, the first thing we did on arrival was to look around the buildings and gardens, because there was a risk it would rain later. In the end, it didn't, and we had beautiful weather all day.

Our first exhibit was a collection of medieval Books of Hours, on loan from the Morgan library. This was a very interesting exhibition; I learned some things about Books of Hours I didn't already know, and got to explain them to Yuriko. This wasn't always very easy, as I don't know the technical terms for a lot of the things in and concerning those books. Of course, there might well not be technical terms for them in Japanese, in which case I may have done as well as could be expected.

From there, we went to look at some photographs by Weegee, which was a really big contrast. For some reason, this exhibition was far, far more crowded than the medieval manuscripts. Maybe the medieval period just doesn't have the same appeal for most people. We finished up by looking round the decorative arts collection, including a fascinating exhibit about a renaissance cabinet. The curators had thought it was a nineteenth century imitation, but differing opinions from French experts convinced them to look more closely. The final conclusion was that almost all of it was genuine; it had a later base and one replaced panel. The display went through all of the methods they used to check whether it was genuine, from dendrochronology to looking at the types of tool marks. I think I may have been pretty much the perfect audience for it; I know very little about the specific field of dating art objects, but I know enough about the surrounding fields for everything to make sense. Thus, I learned a lot, but didn't feel overwhelmed.

Our return journey took a bit longer, as there was more traffic on the roads, and we abandoned our plans for going to a bookshop on the way. That was postponed to the following day, when we went to the Irvine Spectrum Center, an outdoor mall. We popped in to visit my uncle, Peter, and his wife Lucy, as they live very close to it, and were invited round for dinner for later in the holiday.

At the mall, the main thing we did, in the end, was go to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I enjoyed it. If you haven't seen it yet, it is worth seeing, but you should skip the rest of this paragraph. Unless, of course, you've read the book and thus already know what happens. The special effects were incredible. The animals were so very close to realistic that I can't be sure it wasn't just the fact that they were talking that made them look somewhat unreal. CG can finally do fur. One thing that struck me quite forcefully seeing the film, which also struck me when I read the book, was that there seems little justification for deeming Edmund to be a traitor. He simply trusts the first person that he meets in Narnia, which is exactly what Lucy does. He is merely unlucky in his first meeting, and that does not constitute treachery. Yuriko, on the other hand, did not understand why Aslan came back to life again. Obviously, she wasn't going to immediately spot the Christian parallels, which might be the only thing that makes that plot twist make sense. On that topic, I didn't find the Christian links to be annoying. They aren't heavily emphasised, and you would probably have to know about them already to spot them. On the other hand, I don't agree with the basic ethical assumptions behind the story, but then that's hardly a rare occurrence in cinema.

On the 29th (I think), we went to Laguna Beach. This has the twin advantages of being a really nice beach, and of having lots of art galleries. We also had absolutely glorious weather; we saw a couple of women sunbathing in bikinis. We walked one way along the cliffs, and then back along the beach, which gave us plenty of opportunities to enjoy the scenery. Dad took lots of photographs of the happy couple walking hand-in-hand by the ocean. Aaaaaah...

The 30th involved another trip to the Irvine Spectrum, this time to do some serious shopping, and spend my gift card. The 31st was largely quiet, as Dad and Joy have dinner together on New Year's Eve. You are only allowed to attend if you flew several thousand miles to be there, so Peg, Yuriko, and I were permitted to be present, although we had to dress up smartly. It's a good job I took my suit.

One New Year's Day, Dad took us out for breakfast at Paul's, a very traditional American diner. The portions are huge and the food is good, so it was something we'd been planning to do. We only discovered the ulterior motive when we got back to the house.

They threw a surprise wedding party for us. Most of them won't be able to get to Japan for the ceremony, so they took advantage of our presence to get their celebrating in. It was a very nice surprise; there was a cake and everything. We got to cut the cake, and were encouraged to follow US custom by slamming it into each others' faces. We only managed to do it a bit, because we were both too ready for it, and defended well.

On the second, it rained, so we went to South Coast Plaza, which is a large indoor mall, and did some more shopping. Malls and shopping were an important part of the visit, which is fine because they are a very important part of the Californian way of life.

Dad had a business meeting in Las Vegas on the 4th, and so had offered to take us with him. We drove out fairly early on the 3rd, and stayed in New York, New York. Las Vegas is quite an experience. We mainly wandered around and played on a few slot machines; over all, I think we spent about $2 on them. Of course, if you play on the ones that are 1 cent per credit, you can get quite a lot of games out of a dollar... The most fun one was the Star Wars one, and not just because I actually came out ahead on it.

The hotels all have a theme and a casino, which makes wandering around very interesting. Overally, Yuriko's favourite was the Bellagio, but we also enjoyed visiting Paris, which has a half-scale model of the Eiffel Tower. Built, as the attendant in the lift explained, in 1999 for no reason. This is, after all, Las Vegas.

On the evening of the 3rd, we ate in a steak restaurant in New York, New York. It took them about an hour to produce our order, so we strongly suspect that the chef dropped the first one, or something. I had steak, of course, and it was very good. Dad had King Rib of Beef, which was about a foot long, eight inches wide, and three inches thick. Seriously. I've never seen such an enormous piece of beef. He didn't quite manage to eat it all, although he said it was very good.

On the fourth, we just wandered around again, visited The Venetian, saw the Strip (that's the road with all the hotels on, OK?), and then met Dad for the drive back to LA. We had incredibly good roads; we were in the house about four hours after we met up in the hotel. Dad said he'd never used cruise control so much.

And that was basically the end of the holiday. We packed our cases, which had a lot more stuff in them than when we went over. We actually got everything in, including the large box with food that Yuriko picked as a present. The large case was overweight for the plane, of course, but that's minor. The flight back was fine, although getting two large cases on the rush hour Odakyu line from Shinjuku was a bit of an effort.

When we left Los Angeles, the air temperature was 28 degrees centigrade. When we arrived in Tokyo, it was two. We knew we were back...

The last few days have been spent getting caught up on some work, including, now, writing this diary entry. Looking at my work commitments, I think I might have to go to writing one entry every two weeks. Of course, that would be more than I managed in the last three months. Maybe setting a slightly lower target will make it easier to hit.