Nagoya’s location almost exactly mirrors that of my hometown of Adelaide. Nagoya is 35 North, 136 East. Adelaide is 35 South 139 East. This means that if you draw a line extending directly north from Adelaide it will pass through this part of Japan, and it is the same distance to the equator from either city.
Given that we have relatively mild winters in Adelaide and we never get any snow, it always surprises me how much snow we get in Japan. In northern Nagahama in Shiga, where I used to live, the local residents woke up to 80cm of snow this morning. Here we only had about 15cm, but the boys still enjoyed their first experience of playing in the snow.
The church that we attend in Japan has a congregation of 10 when everyone rocks up. Of this number my family is 4 and the pastor’s family is 3.
I’ve been wondering how our pastor survives financially given the small size of the congregation. I discovered part of the answer on Sunday. For five nights a week he works at a local supermarket stacking shelves and undertaking other stock-related work.
The more I get to know this guy, the more I like him!
Last weekend we visited close friends who live in Takarazuka.
Because we’re cheap we made this trip using the wonderful seishuun 18 kippu, and because we’re heartless we took only one of our two sons, leaving the younger one to fend for himself amongst the mountains of toys and sweets and loving grandparents. Poor boy.
The quality of rail service in this country is superb, but rail travel over long distances isn’t cheap. This makes the seishuun 18 kippu is one of the few rail bargains of Japan. This special ticket, which can be bought by anyone but is only available during school holidays, allows unlimited travel for a whole day for 2,300 yen (about $30). The only catch is that it is only valid for local and basic express services. No bullet trains or special express trains. The trip from Nagoya to Takarazuka took just under 4 hours (including 5 transfers) and it was an enjoyable way to see some familiar countryside. The line passes right through Shiga Prefecture, where I used to live.
Something I love about Takarazuka is the convenience of its location. It is 30 minutes away from the centre of both Osaka and Kobe, yet is not as crowded as either. It is a hilly town with narrow streets and relatively few cars. It features small shops full of character that spill out onto the street. Everyone gets around locally either by bicycle or on foot, and people mostly commute to the larger cities by the privately-run Hankyu railway that has frequent services and is cheap.
Although our friends’ apartment is small by Australian standards, it is 8 minutes walk to the train station, 1 minute to the school, 3 minutes to the supermarket (and the all-important 100 yen shop) and 5 minutes to a street of coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Until recently they have not needed to own a car.
We took the opportunity to visit Kobe in the evening to see the famous Kobe Illuminare. This magnificent display of lights and music is an annual commemoration of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Because of the national emphasis on saving energy this year, the duration of the Illuminare was shorter than usual. This led to intense crowding, even by Japanese standards.
I once again fell in love with Kobe. It is in my opinion the most beautiful of the large Japanese cities. It is also, for Japan, surprisingly cosmopolitan. There are plenty of restaurants offering food from around the world, it has a Chinatown (something of a rarity in Japanese cities), it features tree-lined European streets, and, as Kobe has a relatively high population of expatriates, it’s not unusual to see other foreigners about the place.
It’s not all beauty and tranquility though. Kobe is also the home of Japan’s most infamous Yakuza organisation.
The devastation has been visible through Google’s satellite images for some time, but Google has now released Streetview imagery of the Tsunami-hit region of North-eastern Japan. The images were taken in July this year and allow you to take a 360 degree virtual tour of the devastated area.
Although the images were taken some 4 months after the tsunami swept inland killing 20,000 people, the immense scale and horror of the disaster is still clearly evident, with mountains of debris, houses swept from their foundations, and cars upturned in the middle of fields.
We’ve just had our third small earthquake in the past month. This one was a number 4 on the Japanese shindo scale that measures seismic intensity from 0 – 7. I’m not sure if this makes it more or less likely that we will soon experience the oft-predicted 1 in 100 year Tokai earthquake. (The last great Tokai Earthquake was in 1854 so you can understand why people around here are a bit nervous about it.)
After each earthquake we turn on the TV to see where the epicentre was, the magnitude and depth, and most importantly whether or not a Tsunami is predicted to follow. This information is broadcast within minutes of the quake occurring thanks to Japan’s advanced network of hundreds of seismic intensity meters.
I just watched a news report about the latest apparent craze of eating vegetables dipped in chocolate. I’m not talking about strawberries or cherries. I’m talking about carrot, celery and broccoli. All the goodness of natural veggies with all the badness of full fat chocolate.
Does anyone else think this is nuts? What’s the point? Surely one should either eat something healthy or eat something nice, instead of mixing the two to create something that is neither!
In Australia if you had your family gathered for Christmas dinner and you brought out a bucket of takeaway greasy fried chicken you would be pitied by most. Do the same thing on Christmas Eve in Japan (preferably just with your significant other) and you are considered to be a well-rounded and cultured human being.
I am unreliably informed that KFC’s biggest sales day in most Western countries is Mother’s Day. Of course it is unlikely that the reason for this is that mothers generally like fried chicken. Rather husbands and children have trouble locating a source of food that is not mother-dependent.
In Japan KFC’s busiest day is Christmas Eve. By far. To the extent that reservations are taken a month in advance and back office staff and executives clumsily undertake frontline service to help cope with the volume of demand. This year KFC’s Japanese television advertisements boldly proclaim that “Christmas is Kentucky”. Such a brazen attempt to own the birth of the Christ has not been seen since Coca-cola co-opted old Saint Nick in order to sell fizzy sugar water in 1931.
This bizarre connection between Christmas and greasy chicken began as the result of a marketing campaign in the 1970s, allegedly introduced after a foreign resident missionary, in an act of what must have been nothing other than sheer desperation, resorted to buying a box of KFC because he couldn’t find any roast turkey in Japan. Although this guy was clearly nuts, I, for one, can sympathise with him. In 2003 I attended a Thanksgiving Dinner here with some American friends. We also had trouble finding turkey. What we did manage to find was made of reconstituted meat, had no bones or stuffing, and was shaped (and tasted) like a car battery. However, in Japan, this was the best we could do – and even then only courtesy of the Foreign Buyers Club.
I’ll leave you with some videos that demonstrate the extent of this “Christmas is Kentucky” madness. (Have your vomit receptacle at the ready.)
2010 Christmas Advertisement:
People queueing for their KFC on Christmas Eve:
(The staff member he talks to says there’s a 2 hour wait at that store.)