David Chart's Japan Diary

June 20th 2006

So, what's been happening in Japan recently? Judging from the television, you'd think the World Cup was here again, but I'm guessing no-one is relying on me for information about that, so I'll concentrate on my activities.

Work is going fairly well. I've just lost one student because he got a job as a translator (and he was coming twice a week), but I've also just gained a new student, who had her first lesson last week. I think I need to recruit another student or two (literally) to fill in the gaps left by people leaving, but judging from past response to the adverts, that should happen soon enough.

Freelancing is also going OK, albeit busy, but I'm not allowed to talk about that; my contracts say so. Ars Magica got a bit out of control while other projects were more pressing, but I'm slowly mastering it again. It could/should be OK by the end of the month. I'm going to have to watch the amount of freelancing I take on; I can't fit quite as much into the spaces between teaching as I would have hoped, due to the need to change mental gear.

So, what about other things? A couple of weeks ago, I had another Shinto lecture, again about the moving of the shrines at Ise. Apparently, it's changed quite a lot over the centuries. The number of shrines renewed has changed, as has the number of shrine treasures replaced. The one hundred year hiatus during the Sengoku period, when Japan was almost constantly embroiled in civil war, meant that a lot of the techniques and traditions were lost. After it was restarted, the priests, obviously, made an effort to recover as much as possible, and in the nineteenth century the government set up a research centre devoted to the question. Even so, the estimate today is that about 10% of the buildings and about 20% of the shrine treasures are still not done as they were, after over four hundred years of study. Research still continues, so it's possible that more will be done correctly this time. It is a strong argument for not abandoning traditions that are not actively pernicious; it's very hard to get them back later.

Another interesting point was speculation on why the custom of rebuilding the shrine on a regular basis started. Lots of shrines rebuild, but most don't do it on a fixed schedule. Rather, they do it when the old building is falling down. Ise's regular cycle is rare, if not unique. Apparently, up to the early seventh century, the imperial palace moved every time the emperor died, for reasons of ritual purity. After the early seventh century, this practice stopped, but the shrines at Ise were moved every twenty years, roughly the length of an imperial reign. It is possible that there is a link. However, it seems that the origins of the custom are deeply obscure, largely because they go back something like 1400 years.

On the same day, Yuriko and I went to a Bridal Fair. We were only there for about five hours, which wasn't long enough to see all the flowers, menus, clothes, and table settings on offer. Or so I am told. Personally, I thought five hours was plenty, but what do I know. We did make quite a lot of decisions, which is good. We also got to see a bit of a mock reception, which made us wonder about not having a professional MC. They were so professional it was actually bad; rather over the top. I'm not going to go into details about the rest of the fair now, because quite a few people reading this will get to experience the wedding.

This weekend Yuriko's brother stayed overnight with us, because the art club he belongs to was having an exhibition in Tokyo. The original plan was for the three of us to go out for sushi on Saturday, but in the Kouji couldn't come, as a club event went on into the evening. Yuriko decided that we should go for sushi anyway; she really likes sushi, and so do I, so it wasn't difficult to convince me.

On Sunday, four of Yuriko's friends came to visit and see the flat. Yuriko had planned a lunch, and I think she initially intended to prepare it all herself. I offered to help, which was just as well, because I ended up doing about half of it, and we finished in time, but without much time to spare. (We also avoided actually being rushed, which was good.) The lunch was fun, talking to Yuriko's friends, who are from all over Japan. I'd met most of them at least once before, but one I'd only heard about. (Well, actually, I'd heard about her cat, whom Yuriko has cat-sat on a couple of occasions.) Obviously, they all live in Tokyo now, but we talked about various more rural areas, and I started to feel like I wanted to travel around Japan again. As is customary, they all brought small food gifts, which were very nice. One brought a very interesting cake; it was primarily sesame flavour. That actually worked very well, as it wasn't too sweet.

Yuriko's other plan for the afternoon was for us to go to a local temple with lots of hydrangeas. (I mentioned this in the last entry.) Unfortunately, it was raining very, very heavily. Even more unfortunately, Yuriko decided that we'd still go. We got taxis, as walking was completely out of the question, and once we got there we were very grateful to be allowed to sit inside the temple and wait for the rain to finish. It didn't, but it did get a lot lighter, and we were able to see the hydrangeas. They were quite spectacular, in ranks up the hillside. In all, it was a very nice afternoon.

Yesterday it was my day off, and so my turn to make dinner. I made gyouza (Chinese dumplings), another food Yuriko and I really like. It took a bit longer than anticipated, but the meal turned out good in the end.

Today, I have no students, so I've been trying to get lots of other work cleared. I've actually been doing fairly well, but I really need to get on with some more now.