Masaki and Saika Go to the Store, Parts 1 and 2 (Don’t Miss This!)

January 10, 2011

Last night, Japan’s NTV aired a program called “Hajimete no otsukai”, which loosely translates to “First Errand”; this is a reality show that has appeared in several iterations over the years, not unlike Candid Camera, although with a much simpler set-up. The premise of the show is that real-life little kids get sent to the grocery store to pick up some items for their mother; the catch is that the kids are quite young, usually less than five years old. They are being filmed the whole time, and they clearly haven’t a clue that anything is out of the ordinary;  they carry on much as you would expect kids of that age to do, getting sidetracked here and there along the way. Parents in North America will cringe while watching Masaki (five years and two months old) and his little sister Saika (two years and ten months old) going off on their own, crossing city streets (and even walking in those streets when no sidewalks are available), and doing Mom’s shopping in several different stores in their Suginami neighborhood.

They have been sent out for five items: meat for beef stew; some beef suet; potatoes; a kiwi; and a stalk of celery. This will necessitate their going to the butcher shop for the meat, a vegetable shop for the potatoes, a fruit shop for the kiwi, and so on. There are a couple of moments of minor consternation, as Masaki tries to figure out the correct amount to pay, or as the two walk off with something that looks remarkably like celery—but isn’t. Also, the vegetable in question (a butterbur) is a fair bit longer than normal celery, making the homeward journey somewhat problematical for the intrepid pair, albeit hilarious to those watching.

So, if you are in the mood to be thoroughly charmed, and if you’re up for a good laugh as well (and who among us does not fall into at least one of those categories?), check out these two links, which are conveniently subtitled in English, not word for word, but enough for you to get the gist of what’s going on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5k5XTZy0rA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7L6xkpnYc4

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The Year Thus Far, Part II: Seven Gods Revisited

January 10, 2011

The Seven Gods, minus Snow White

Each January that I have been in Japan, early in the month, I have made the recommended pilgrimage to the temples of the Shichi Fukujin (the Seven Lucky Gods), to secure blessings in the critical areas of being: happiness; health; prosperity; wisdom; longevity; commerce; and of course, virility. An extra side benefit is that these gods also preside over some seldom considered aspects of life such as scourging (yes, that is actually a verb) evildoers, presiding over chess matches, and overseeing flood control, all handy attributes of a god, in my estimation.

These gods are altogether more jovial (and a good deal more earthy) than their main counterpart in the West. One, Juro-jin, is said to be a bit of a drunkard and a womanizer, somewhat atypical attributes for a deity; nonetheless, he is the god of teachers, scientists and mathematicians.  Another, Hotei, sometimes pretends to be a beggar, although his ever-present bag is said to contain everything necessary for daily living. He is a jolly fellow sometimes known as the Laughing Buddha, and the god of children, fortune tellers and bartenders (no, I’m not making this up). Benzaiten, the only female in the group, known for her capriciousness and jealousy, is the goddess of artists, musicians and gamblers. Fukurokuju, an ancient Chinese god, is the god of wisdom, also the go-to guy for athletes and watchmakers. Bishamonten, whose origins are in India, is the god of doctors, soldiers and priests, a dignified character charged with defense of the faith. Ebisu, one of the more popular gods, is a native Japanese, the patron deity of sailors, middle managers, merchants and foreigners. Last but not least is Daikokuten, the god of craftsmen, millers and businessmen; known to be a fierce demon chaser when not otherwise engaged. Also, he is the aforementioned flood control guru.

So, all over Japan the temples gear up for the pilgrimage, the nearby neighborhoods teem with impromptu food and souvenir stands, and the atmosphere grows festive and just a tiny bit boisterous (but of course in a very polite and not-even-slightly-in-your-face Japanese manner). The pilgrims purchase a shikishi card, a gold-rimmed cardboard sheet perhaps 8 x 10”, upon which are stamped the seals of the temples visited. Once all seven seals are duly gathered, the stamped card is displayed prominently near one’s front door, in case the gods should pay a visit during the upcoming year.

This year, I went to the temples of Kawagoe, an old town in Saitama, an hour or so to the west of Tokyo. The downtown area of Kawagoe remains much as it was before the war: the utility lines and pipes underground; narrow and sometimes winding streets; small stores and restaurants with their names prominently displayed on hanging lanterns or noren (curtains hanging in the doorways). Delectable aromas waft out from bakeries, yakitori stands, mochi stalls, and restaurants of every description (every description, so long as it is Japanese, that is…). The crowds were humongous, and there were long queues at several of the temples, but this was no hardship, as there were photo ops at every turn; I went through one memory card and three batteries in the space of just a few hours!

All in all, a lovely way to while away a sunny afternoon, meandering through one small corner of Old Japan, securing blessings along the way.

A two-tiered pagoda rises above the teeming hordes...

A quiet stroll on a deserted street...

Howzabout a chewy octopus on a stick for lunch?

The bell tower in old Kawagoe

Hotei and me...

Kawagoe has no shortage of weird hair salon names...

Here's another, just down the street...

Temple and sora aoi (blue sky)

Sign on soft drink machine

New Year's decorations

A sign advertising a detective agency; move over Sam Spayed...

And, while we are on the subject of dogs, how about this well dressed pair (click on the pic to see both dogs); as fashionistas well know, down is the latest thing in canine outerwear:

2011 Thus Far, the First Sunrise

January 10, 2011

On New Year’s afternoon, after returning from an all night bus tour to see the first sunrise of 2011 over Mt. Fuji, I sat down at my computer to take care of some odds and ends of leftover business from 2010. One of the things I did was log into Facebook for the first time in a while. I’ve been a Facebook member for the past year or so, as it has been the only reliable way of getting in touch with my daughter, who is a pediatric nurse and works a very erratic schedule (not to mention that her time zone and mine are ten hours or so out of synch). So anyway, I thought I’d log on to the social networking sight and see what was up with some friends and family. It turns out that my cousin Cindy was online at the same time, and she sent me an instant chat message to wish me a Happy New Year, and to see what sort of mischief I was up to in terms of celebration. I replied that I had gone to Kuonji Temple, in nearby Yamanashi prefecture, where, after a dead-of-night look around the temple grounds, I rode a cable car to the top of Mt. Minobu, from which vantage point I could watch the sun rise over Mt. Fuji. I say “over”, but in fact, it rose somewhat to the right of Mt. Fuji. Later in the year, thanks to the seasonal juxtaposing of the Earth vis-à-vis the heavens, the sun actually appears to emerge directly out of Fuji’s volcanic crater, creating the famous “Diamond Fuji” illusion, in which Fuji-san is crowned with a sparkling golden jewel. Anyway, I texted Cindy, and told her if she could wait for a few minutes, I would load some pics into the blog. “No need,” she replied. “You must have gone with Saki, right? She has already posted a bunch of photos in Facebook. Thanks, though.” Rats, I thought, scooped again!

So, several days late, as it has been an extraordinarily busy first week of the year, here are some pictures for those of you who are not Facebook friends with the much-more-timely-than-I Saki-chan:

Pagoda in Kuon-ji Temple Courtyard

A Predawn Prayer

First Glimmer

A bit later...

Finally, just before frostbite set in...

It appears I was not the only one with a camera...