I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

BEE Japan 2009 Ride Applications available at beejapan.org

This is currently keeping me pretty busy, so if anyone's wondering why I haven't been responding to emails lately...

Applications for 2009 Ride available until February 28th

Written by Salem on Jan 27th, 2009 and posted in 2009, Lead Article

Hey everyone, 2009 Ride Leader Salem here. With the new year it’s time to get the ball (wheel) rolling and start the application process for Team 2009. I’ll be making a copy available here on the website, so if you are still interested and haven’t contacted me or anyone here at BEE, now is the time. I’ll be accepting applications until February 28th (2009 is not a leap year–please don’t forget!). I want to state in advance to that there are no suprises, that 2009 Team Riders are expected to provide their own cycle and burden the costs of getting to Wakkanai and home from Sata (or Okinawa?). In addition to this, riders will be asked to make a donation of approximately 70,000 Japanese yen. Please take these things into careful consideration when you are completing the application.

Many people have already contacted me and I’m really excited about the possibilities that lay ahead of us this year. I’m incredibly honored to have the opportunity to work with a group of people ready to devote 2 months of their lives to spreading environmental awareness, connecting with local people throughout Japan, and just plain open to the unmatchable adventure this promises to be (or should I say, BEE?).

I look forward to hearing from everyone in the next few weeks!




BEE 2009:ライダー募集中(2月28日までお申し込み)

Written by Salem on 1 月 28th, 2009 and posted in 2009, トップの記事

皆さん今日は!BEE 2009ライドリーダー、セイラム・ウィラードです。
新年を迎えて、2月28日までBEE 2009ライドはライダー募集中です。

BEE 2009ライドに参加するライダーは、次の必須のことをご注意ください:


今まで、たくさんの参加した人から連絡をもらったので、BEE 2009ライドを楽しみしています。私はリーダーになるということは、本当に光栄に思います。皆さんと一緒に環境の意識を持たせてあげたり、全国各地方の 日本人と交流したり、比類のない冒険をしたりすることを目指しています。



Winter Visitors: Part 2

Smiling through the awkwardness--when I was in an onsen in Kyushu I asked a guy if he minded me taking a photo of the onsen. He thought I wanted him to take a picture of me. You can see the result.

After the first few days of sticking close to home and checking out some of Shiga & Kyoto's best sights, we decided we'd had enough of the island, Honshu at least.
On December 21 we took off for a week in Kyushu, land of onsen, shochu, and home to many battles between Japan and the Chinese several hundred years ago.

After a 7:49 Shinkansen to Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture), we changed to a local and stopped by Karatsu (Saga Prefecture) to visit Ryuta-gama, the Nakazato family kiln. Muan Nakazato was the 12th in a line of Nakazato's that have practiced pottery since coming to Japan from Korea over two hundred years ago. Muan helped revived Karatsu-yaki during the 1920s-60s and continued firing the ancient kilns that nearly all others had abandoned the art. Muan was later named a Living National Treasure.

Muan passed away in 1985, but his son (Takashi) and grandson (Taki) continue to carry the family's torch as the 13th and 14th Nakazato potters. Their workshop, Ryuta-gama, tucked up into the hills about 5km from the coast, was absolutely inspiring. While we toured the grounds, where it appeared the Nakazato's were farming enough food to keep themselves well fed year-round. What else would a person need? A place to pursue their love, work outdoors, and a gallery of their artwork? I think it was at this point that I decided I am going to make sure that Katie and I have a place like this in the future. Needless to say we couldn't resist buying a few of Takashi and Taki Nakazato's works as well.

Monument on the site where the 2nd atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki at 11:02am on August 9th. It apparently detonated 500m above the point you're looking at.
Later that day we ended up in Nagasaki where, low and behold, more kin were abound! My cousin Winston just moved to Japan to metriculate at Temple University in Tokyo, so we planned on all meeting with his girlfriend, Erin, who lives in nearby Oita Prefecture. We didn't spend much time here, but naturally that stint included a visit to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Coming to Japan and not seeing Hiroshima or Nagasaki would be depriving oneself of witnessing (in as far as that word can be applied) one of the most devastatingly important events in human history.

The sky--the place where the bomb, endearingly nicknamed Fatman, burned a hole through the memory of Nagasakians for all time.

Katie and I found this painting in a temple near the one-legged torii.

While thankfully unable to physically witness the effect of The Bomb, artwork produced by those who did gives you an idea of what local people went through.

The famous one-legged torii, that had its better-half blown off during the blast in 1945. It still stands, in the same place, however it's worth mentioning that at the time of the attack the surrounding area was a tree-covered hillside, not unfathomable concrete.

No, this isn't nuclear aftermath, this is the next stop on our Kyushu tour: Beppu. Home to some of Japan's best onsen (hot spring) hot spots, this appears to be a former hotel or tenament that couldn't handle the geothermal heat and bakuhatsu-ed (exploded) in red and green sulphur stains.

Beppu pluses: 1) You can use the onsens for bathing, cooking food, heating your home (unfortunately I didn't see much of that happening--Japan hasn't been learning from Iceland). 2) There are free, outdoor baths in the hills above Beppu, one of which Katie and I hiked up to early Christmas Eve morning. 3) Oddly my favorite, the entire city smells like sulphur and other natural minerals, and after bathing in the odors and pools of Beppu for a couple days, my body continued emitting distinct, subtle whiffs of rotten eggs for about a week.
Cousin Winston, aka, Shiroi Oni.

Mom, Becca, and Katie in the steam that was pouring out of a gutter on the streets of Beppu. That's right, the underground springs bubble up so profusely that the boiling water spills over into roadside drains.

One Beppu minus: Near the well-known Kannawa area of Beppu, in the heart of the famous Jigoku Onsen (Hell's Baths), there is an art/antique shop with a bitter, flammingly racist man steering the helm. Katie and I were looking at chawans (ceramic bowls for tea ceremony), and the guy told us not to touch anything. When I pressed the issue, asking how can he expect us to appreciate the craftmanship if we can't feel it, he told us to leave. I shit you not. I asked if it was because we were foreigners, he said yes, so I let him know what I thought about that and left. I strongly encourage anyone who checks out Beppu to go by this store (it's hard to miss as it sits adjascent to a sex museum) and touch everything, especially the most expensive objects you can find.

Last stop, Christmas Day, Kurokawa Onsen. A two-hour bus ride from Beppu, Kurokawa is a small galaxy in the mountains with some of the classiest onsens in Japan. Even though we stayed at a relatively inexpensive place, we had our own private cottage with two rooms and a long list of amenities including 3 different kinds of robes, two varieties of slippers, and the most extraordinary meal I've ever eaten which consisted of basashi (horse sushi) as the appetizer of a roughly 20 course meal. It was absolutely ridiculous, but it came with the territory of Japanese luxury--my Christmas gift to Mom, Katie, and Becca (and myself!).

But at least GITMO is more eco-friendly than the US

I didn't believe it until I read the link I attached to the last post, but GITMO used wind-power to harness up to 25% of it's energy. Guess since it was top-secret, even the information that could provide our children with cleaner air, if properly invested in by the government at home, was too dangerous to leak.

How was it possible for Bush to get all the right things wrong and the wrong things right? I don't even want to think about what happens when he tries rubbing his belly while patting his head.

If I had to guess in a word: plucking avalanche.

Obama from Japan

Like most people I've been glued to the news lately, taking in a steady diet of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (to make sure I get all the facts). From what I understand everyone back home in the States has been paying close attention to the new administration as well--a really good sign that things are going to, dare I say it, CHANGE!
I'm not going to bore us all with the details, but I did see a great mini-doc on President Barack H. Obama Jr. (I love the way they abbreviated that during the inauguration--sad that Americans are so distrusting and hypersensitive to names like Muhammad, Al-anything, and Hussein). Sorry to be predictable, but it was a piece by Frontline: Dreams of Obama

Not surprising, but although Obama's name is probably the first thing out of the NHK (Nihon Housou Kyoukai=Japan Broadcasting Corporation) announcer's mouth every morning, he never goes into much depth other than the when and where. Oddly every person I've talked to this week knows more about Obama's limo than his personal history. And the town of Obama, Fukui Prefecture gets equal press coverage, especially during the election. So needless to say, the Frontline report on Dreams of Obama was fresh air to me, and I'm trying to take in as much as I can before the spring Kousa (yellow sand = a cocktail of sand from the Gobi & the desert-once-called-the-Aral Sea, Chinese pesticides and fertilizers, and the occasional stone or hiker from the Great Wall). If you look at that satellite photo Kousa on that link you'd know what I'm talking about. Here's one more chance: Kousa. And here's the Japanese Meteorology Center's page used for tracking Kousa. From March on those little white blips will starting looking like a Bush/FOX News Era terrorist alert scale.

Ok, so enough of that. The man of the hour is without question Obama. For people wondering, The Inauguration was broadcast live here in Japan as well, I should know I stayed up until 2:00 am to watch it last Wednesday morning.
And while I'm attempting to stay level-headed and not jump on "the world is saved" bandwagon, I have to say that it inspires me that so many students at my schools 1) know who Obama is, and 2) seem genuinely interested about him being the new US President.

It may be a stretch, but I did a lesson this week on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech, coupled with the students' expressing their future dreams, and it was probably one of the best lessons I've ever had at Yasu High School (my alternate to Kusatsu). Students were asking me about Obama, and it gave me the opportunity to relate how his story was possible because of people like Dr. King and Rosa Parks (of whom some of the students had also heard of--boy did that make my day!).

Plus, I find that if I quote certain Obama coinages--"Yes, you can!"--when a students says "英語は無理やん (English is impossible)”, they actually appear charged from within, and I'm not talking about a saccharine jolt, and respond, "Yes, we can!" with a smile. I hold great respect for someone who can inspire so many people, who for many (let's just say, 8?) years of their lives have been suffering from the malaise and apathy of excessive luxury. For this generation, the generation of yours truly and always, motivation has seemed like a cause lost in video games, cell phones, beer pong––all things that the majority of people in the who live in poverty cannot image, but for us they have flowed in with our growing expectation that a newer, smarter breed of entertainment would soon follow. For Obama to come along and impress people with messages of hope, and to get people on board despite his pragmatic balance of responsibility and the need for a degree of socialism (despite how much I know many Americans cringe at the idea of it usurping democracy)––that's just amazing.

Is this going a bit too far?
In all honesty, we need to give Obama more power, hell, I vote to make him honorary dictator, because we need someone with his sensibility and devotion to social justice to have the power to make the CHANGE he is pledging. Controversial as it may seem, I believe the world will best be run by this mixed-breed of compassionate dictator (like the Tiger Woods of humanitarianism and politics). I worry that our current system is still too lethargic and will be weighed down by people who still expect to live with the same standard of luxury they've been deluded into thinking is commonplace for the place...50 years.

I guess the only thing we can do is give our best and hope the rest of We the People get on board. If not, we could always hold-off on closing Gitmo... We let Bush get away with it for how many years?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Winter Visitors: Part 1

Shigaraki Ceramic Park, a picnic lunch of rice + pickle medly and hard-boiled eggs
During the recent winter vacation I had a full cast of family come to visit me in Nippon. For Katie it was sort of a homecoming after having gone back to Georgia to begin her graduate work in group & family counseling this past August; for my mom (Mom) and sister (Becca), it was their first time, so I wanted to give them a complete look at Japan's many facets. I tried my best to introduce them to everything from traditional arts & crafts like pottery and lacquerware to the modern clusterbomb of Tokyo and kitty-chan paraphernalia.

Some photos I included, usually based on aesthetic or moral appeal, or because they had an interesting story behind them. Like these tanuki, for example: Can you guess which of these little cute cuddly looking creatures tried to start humping Becca's leg when we walked past? The correct answer is of course none of these. You are very observant.

Bridges to Nowhere: Les pontifes sans raison: This is a photo I wouldn't necessarily want to look at long, because I believe that surrounding oneself in beauty is a means of inspiring beauty. However the truth and inconsistency of our current reality must be seen if we are going to recognize and create our own.

During Mom and Becca's first four days, they didn't have too much time to rest (like I said, I was trying to cram as much of Japan into Japan as possible––to them it probably looked more like a steriod-puffed Barry Bonds version of Japan).

Day 1: Temples of the Higashiyama, Kyoto area––Sanjuusangen-dou, Rokuhara-mitsuji, Kiyomizudera.

Main hall at Kiyomizudera

A look at Biwako from atop Mt. Hiei.

Torii gate at the entrance to Sakamoto/Hiei Hiyoshi Taisha at the base of Mt. Hiei
Day 2: Mt. Hiei (as I mentioned before the birthplace of Japan's Tendai Buddhism sect) and Ogoto Onsen. I really wish we had more onsen back home in Georgia, it's definitely going to be something I miss when I go home. Of course I forgot to mention that tattoos are frowned upon in onsen due to the stigma that tattoos are a sign of the yakuza (Japanese mafia). I don't have a painted inch on my body, so it's never been a problem, but Becca was naturally asked not to come back to the Ogoto Onsen we visited. Not a problem, she said, cause she probably won't get a chance to come to Japan again anyway.

The sweetest, slowest Obaachan: She was a truly kind 'little-old-lady', but boy if she wasn't a lesson in patience as well. It took about 30 minutes for her to wrap-up and total-up our four purchases, and when we tried to jump in and help she got confused and started over. I'm really impressed that she manages a pottery shop with so many people's artwork at her age––certainly she's a model for endurance.

Day 3: Shigaraki, Big Poppa Santa tanuki, Obaachans. We checked out the Shigaraki Ceramic Park Museum and also picked up a few pieces of famous Shigaraki-yaki. Mom even got hit on by one of the owners of a ceramic ware shop--he gave her a free bowl! Lucky! I wonder what I'd have to do to get that Santa tanuki over there.

Day 4: Toji's Koubou-Ichi in Kyoto. The Koubou-Ichi is on the 21st of every month, and it's probably the city's largest open-air flea market, with everything from food to knives, traditional Japanese garments to paintings. This was my second time going, same for my friend Efrem who also accompanied us, so we were able to somewhat skillfully manouver through the somewhat hostile crowd. Unlike the obaachans in Shigaraki, the flea market obaachans will eat you alive with their elbows and handbags if you get in their way! But we survived and made it out with quite a few Christmas presents for folks back home.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Pottery - Mino 美濃焼

While I have many stories to tell of the winter vacation and all of my visitors––Katie, mom, and Becca all made the long journey over here for everyone's (ironically) first Japanese Christmas––I have little time at the moment so I'm just going to post a snippet of some of the new pottery I've collected during the past month.

Mino (modern day southern Gifu Prefecture) pottery came into the spotlight during the Momoyama Era (1568-1603). Oda Nobunaga, leader of the neighboring Owari Country (Province), allowed "chajin" (tea lovers) to continue their art of making ceramics to be used in tea ceremony. While wars were going on around the Mino Province Despite, especially in Nobunaga's home district of Owari, potters we protected from the fighting and threw themselves into developing some of the best chawans (tea bowls), hanaire (flower holders for ikebana, and also pivotal to tea ceremony), mizusashi (water jars) at the time. (Despite having a soft spot for the Japanese traditional arts, Nobunaga was ruthless when facing his enemies––he raged total warfare on many of his enemies, killing civilians and samurai indiscriminately, and he even torched the home of Tendai Buddhism on Mt. Hiei when he learned Tendai priests were supporting his foes, a fire that killed between 3-4,000 people.)

Mino-yaki (pottery) is well known for it's colorful variety of glazes: mainly yellow (kiseto), black (kuroseto), green and dark bronze (oribe), and white (shino). Below are the pieces I acquired on my recent trip to Tajimi (along with Toki make up the current home of Mino-yaki).

Oribe was originated by Furuta Oribe, after whom the style of Mino-yaki is named. During the Momoyama period Oribe pursued lives both as a ruling daimyo (feudal lord) and a "chajin". He was well known for his highly imaginative topsy-turvy style that broke from the traditional cannon of shapes used in tea ceremony. His creations lacked a center of gravity, balance, and a clearly defined front face (omote, which is usually important in tea bowls).

Left: an iron-glaze oribe tea bowl; Right: A green (often called simply oribe) glaze oribe tea bowl. I really liked the contrast of these two colors, so I couldn't stand to see them separated.

A black glaze oribe. You can see how the mouth of the tea bowl is distorted––a signiture of Furuta Oribe expressing playful anarchy in the company of sophisticated tea ceremony practice that has been handed down for over 1000 years in Japan.

Kiseto was thought to have been an attempt to recreate Korean celedon that went horribly right. The creation of this soft-yellow glaze became a hallmark of Mino-yaki, even though its name derives from a neighboring kiln, Seto (one of the other 6 ancient kilns of Japan along with Tanba, Shigaraki, Echizen, Tokoname, and Bizen). Seto had prospered before Mino, and would again later during the Edo period, but during the fighting of the Momoyama Era many of Seto's most prized potters took refuge just 30km over the mountains in Mino and continued to hone their skills until their were ensured safety back home.
kyusu: teapot

Shino: A white feldspar galze that turns red when fired.
This one is actually called nezumi shino––nezumi means mouse, but it doubles as a word for the color gray.