Traffic Sign Hymns

Our eldest son, ID, has a curious fascination with road signs. Although his Japanese in general matters is still rather rudimentary, he knows the official names of most of the signs on the page below. He carries this book with him everywhere, always open at this page.

We are wondering how he will cope when he starts nursery school next year. Although he won’t be able to manage “Hi, my name’s ID and I’m 3 years old”, he will fluently spout off, “Overtaking prohibited! Pedestrian crossing ahead. Caution: road narrows.”

His obsession has recently reached a new level. After church one Sunday, Nicewife overheard ID singing a hymn-like tune interspersed with the official names of traffic signs. He finished with “Amen”.

It seems that traffic signs have now officially become a religion.

traffic signs

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Autumn Colours

On Tuesday we took a trip to a small city north of here called Inuyama. What I like the most about Inuyama is that its name translates literally as “Dog Mountain City”.

Absurd juxtapositions aside, the most interesting thing about Inuyama is that it is home to the oldest original wooden castle in Japan. This trip we completely ignored that fact and instead spent the day visiting the grounds of Jakko-in (寂光院) temple, which sits atop a hill covered in beautiful deciduous trees.

There were a few minor disasters during the day. The half-hourly free shuttle bus from the train station only runs on weekends – we discovered so after arriving at the station and attempting to board the non-existant bus. The result was a long and precarious walk along a road sandwiched between the river and mountains. At some points the road narrows to just one lane and the footpath disappears completely, bringing goods trucks and infants in pushers uncomfortably close.

narrow-road
Precarious Mountain Road: Be careful if you're driving a truck, or are very very tall.

Half way along the 2.5km walk a wheel fell off our 3-wheeled pusher. To the amusement of passing motorists I spent 5 minutes imitating a primate, using a rock as a hammer in an attempt to fix it. (Appropriately, this area is also famous for its monkeys.) This affair was generally embarrassing, but not disastrous. However, these minor issues were soon forgotten when we arrived at the grounds and were able to enjoy Japanese Maples aflame in brilliant reds. We joined the throngs of very old people in tour groups and made our way up the hill.

Climbing the 300 steps to the top.
Climbing the 300 steps to the top. Incredibly both our 2 and 3 year old boys managed all the steps by themselves.

Great colours - no Photoshop required.

Viewing the changing of the leaves is something of a seasonal tradition in Japan, and with the beauty of the vibrant display of colours on offer, who can blame them?

Electricity Prices a Surprise

Given how often I hear Japanese lamenting the cost of electricity in this country, I was surprised to discover yesterday that the cost of residential electricity in this part of Japan is pretty much the same as it is in South Australia (around 25 cents per kWh). I expected Australian rates to be cheaper in comparison given the following:

  • In Chubu electricity is provided by a regional private monopoly; in SA there is (supposedly) competitive markets for power generation and retailing.
  • Japan has almost no natural energy resources. Australia has an abundance, and exports Liquified Natural Gas and coal to Japan.
  • The only nuclear plant that supplies this region has indefinitely suspended operations following the March 11 Tsunami because it was built in a costal location that is right on top of a fault line.(Yes, I know! What were they thinking?) This means that almost all of Chubu’s electricity is now being generated at resource-intensive thermal power plants.

Why isn’t electricity in SA cheaper? Does the “Tyranny of distance” strike again? (i.e. Is the cost of distributing the stuff much more expensive given SA’s widely disbursed population? ) And how much further will it rise once the carbon tax is implemented? Could we end up paying more for energy in resource-rich SA than they (and currently we) pay in resource-poor Japan?

Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant
Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant - All reactors are currently suspended. Photo source: Wikipedia

Rice Harvest 2011

Over the last week or so we have been harvesting this year’s rice crop on Nicewife’s parents’ farm. We’re now almost done – only 1 field to go. Once the harvest is complete there will be enough rice to supply the extended family and a large circle of friends with their staple food for the next 12 months.

This year Nicewife’s dad is using a new compact combine harvester. This one is almost twice as fast as their old unit, although it is still significantly slower than the large models now being used by the Agricultural Services companies that do contract harvesting. That said, using even a small machine is of course much faster and easier than harvesting by hand. The main involvement I’ve had this year has been harvesting rice by hand around the edges and corners of each field – these areas are too tight for the combine to enter.

Rice Harvest Combine

The combine harvester cuts the rice at the base of the stalk, lifts the crop from the ground, separates the grain from the straw, deposits the grain into bags, and either cuts and scatters the straw in the field or collects and bundles it with string before ejecting it out the back like a dog delivering a nicely packaged projectile turd. (Did that lower the tone?)

At home we have two other machines to process the grain. The first separates the grain from the chaff, creating genmai (玄米) – brown rice. The second polishes the genmai creating hakumai (白米) – white rice. The byproduct of the polishing process is rice bran, which in older times was used to make soap but nowadays is more commonly used as an organic fertiliser. At home we usually polish the genmai to about 60%, which leaves the rice with a yellow tinge but gives it a higher nutritional value than white rice.

Nicewife’s family’s fields are some of the last in this area to be physically worked by the family that owns them. Many other landowners are getting too old to undertake the work themselves, and most are finding that their children do not want to return to the countryside (despite it being relatively urbanised nowadays) to take up the reins.

Harvesting by Hand

Microsoft Hates Microsoft

Today I fired up Internet Explorer 6 on XP to test how it renders one of my sites. Before even getting that far I discovered that Microsoft has suicidal tendencies – a fact clearly evident by the following issues:

Issue 1: The homepage of IE6 defaulted to nineMSN, a Microsoft site that promptly causes Microsoft’s own ancient browser to crash.

Issue 2: The Download Center on microsoft.com (you know, where you go to upgrade the browser) isn’t compatible with IE6.

microsoft-ie6
Check out all those PNGs with transparent alpha channels - exactly the type that IE6 can't render.

If even Microsoft doesn’t care about IE6, why should I?

Cold Convenience

Don’t you just hate it when you buy frozen products from the supermarket and, by the time you get them home, they’re frozen products no longer? Has your ice cream become just “iced” cream? Have your vegetables become inedibles? Has your cryogenically frozen grandfather become just a wet cold old dude? Fear not, for Japan can fix that!

Just ask the nice lady at the checkout for a dried ice token. She’ll then give you a bag and a free token to use in a machine near the door that dispenses dried ice right on top of your shopping or frozen relative. Excellent.

dried-ice

 

“Very Well”, I hear you say, “But what about refrigerated products like milk and meat? They’re gonna feel left out in the cold, in the warm.” (The yogurt is particularly narcissistic, presumably because it has a well-developed culture.)

Hold your horses, you young upstart, for Japan can fix that too! Many supermarkets now have refrigerated lockers where you can store your shopping. This allows you to browse at other stores before returning to collect your frigid fungibles on the way home. Excellent.