Seems that Midtown has a new guest this month.
On Saturday evening, as part of Obon, we walked down the river to see the release of about 2,500 floating candle-lit lanterns.
Japan Times described the event as:
A hauntingly beautiful sight, the peaceful custom is a gesture of respect for those who have passed away and gives participants a moment to think about their ancestors, loved ones or even past pets.
It is easy to imagine that thousands of floating lanterns would be a peaceful sight, but the event wasn’t really like that. When we arrived there were thousands of people in Asakusa. I had expected things to be more sombre but the atmosphere was much more relaxed with a party feel. If you planned to release a lantern you had to queue for quite a while as they were released one at a time down what looked like a mini aqueduct.
We never got to see large number of lanterns on the river but it was still beautiful and I found the event fascinating and would certainly go to see it again.
The best viewing point for the event is on the Azuma-bashi Bridge and after watching the release of the lanterns we considered joining the crowds there. Once we got closer we released that people were only watching the lanterns approach the bridge and that the other side of the bridge was mostly empty. We went to the empty side as we assumed that we could watch the lanterns continue on down the river towards the sea. But no, there were very few lanterns there. In hindsight it made sense that these lanterns would be considered rubbish that would pollute the river but it was a little shocking to see groups of people in speedboats catching the lanterns in nets and putting them out.
I met Marty for coffee this afternoon and was surprised to discover that Roppongi Hills has been invaded by 66 Doraemon.
I am back in Tokyo and the heat has turned me into a slug – or at least some sort of slow moving sticky creature. The heat index yesterday claimed it felt like 40 C (104 F) in the city. I just know that it’s horribly hot. I dislike the humidity that helps it be hot morning, noon, and night. We do have air conditioners but they are not reacting well with my chest cold. I can’t decide if I’d rather dissolve in the heat or be cooler and coughing. The other nasty thing about the heat is that blog posts end up being whiny like this one as I can’t think of anything much beyond being uncomfortable and hot!
When I’m travelling I’m often asked about life in Japan and one of things that surprises people most is the cost of fruit. Not all fruit in Japan is incredibly expensive but fruit given as a gift or fruit that’s just come into season is. I had told people in Orlando that I expected pears to arrive in the stores soon and that they would probably be around $5 each but the first pears of the season are just over $7 each this year.
My local department store also had a gift fruit section that contains mangoes that cost around $40 each. As you can imagine I won’t be buying pears or mangoes any time soon.
Yesterday afternoon I got to experience one of the more annoying things about Japan – rules. I have sat many exams but I have never sat exams with as many rules as the ones run by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services. The three papers lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes in total and another hour was spent listening to rules. No-one could have that many new rules – this was much worse. It was the same 15 minutes of rules read out 4 times during the afternoon. The rules were exciting things like - do not speak during the exam, if your phone rings you will be given a red card, if an alarm goes off on your watch you will be given a red card, if you do not put your pencil down when instructed you will be given a yellow card, you can place an eraser on your desk but it must be taken out of its box, if you blah blah blah… A yellow card was a warning, two yellows equaled a red, and being given a red card meant you had to leave the test centre immediately and that your paper would not be marked. I had to stop myself from laughing at the way they held up the card and paused each time they read out a rule that invoked the use of one.
The most confusing rule involved an envelope that was on each desk. You had to place your mobile phone inside the envelope. I thought this meant that they were going to collect them but they just wanted it placed in an envelope and put on the empty desk beside the one you were sitting at. At first I think many people were just going to ignore the rule and leave their phones in their bag but if you were caught doing this you would be given a red card and would have to leave the test centre immediately.
We only had one rule breaker. There was no clock in the room so I think that people were surprised by the “pencils down” command when it was given at the end of the first paper. One student continued to write, but he was given a yellow card for doing this. I was pleased that the rules were upheld. I would have been so annoyed if we were allowed to break them after having to listen to them so often.
Last weekend we took a day trip to Jigokudani Yaen Koen to see the troop of wild Japanese macaques that live there. We had a fantastic day.
My favourite type of sushi is “aburi hotate”(炙りホタテ), scallops cooked with a flame. Scallops are expensive and having the sushi chef use a blow torch adds a 100 円 (about $1) a plate to the cost. I used to eat these these about once a week but now I get to eat them every other day thanks to one of my favourite Christmas gifts. I love my blowtorch. Not only do I get to eat one of my favourite things, I get to have fun making them.
When I first moved to Japan earthquakes didn’t bother me much. There were many of them and they didn’t really do anything apart from make everything shake. But that all changed with the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. Now I’m very aware of the horror a quake can cause. This morning shortly after 5am we experienced the strongest quake to shake Tokyo since 2011. And it really wasn’t pleasant. I think part of the problem is that I feel trapped when the building starts to shake. There isn’t anywhere you can go as you certainly shouldn’t try to leave. But when the building is jolted and swaying it feels unnatural to stay inside. I want out. The other issue is the uncertainty. You can’t easily tell anything much other than the fact the earthquake is big. The earthquake this morning had a magnitude of 6.2 and was felt at either a weak 5 or a 4 in this area. So, it was certainly big enough to to make me feel slightly panicked.
The earthquake got us out of bed when the emergency alarm system started. The local government disaster administration wireless broadcast is tested everyday at 5pm, but it is tested with music. This morning, when they used words, we had no idea what was being said. It echoed and distorted off the buildings. For all I know it was saying “we come in peace” but since we couldn’t understand it we turned on the T.V. and listened to the announcements. The T.V. presenter looked nervous but things quickly calmed down and thankfully there was no tsunami warning.
I mostly enjoy living in Japan but I now have nightmares about earthquakes.
It’s Golden Week in Japan – the name given to a group of national holidays that occur close together. Today was Greenery Day. I think it’s a day when you are supposed to spend time with nature, but the closest I got to anything green today was on my lunch plate. We did consider going out but the horrible thing about national holidays in Japan is that the whole country goes out for the day. Tomorrow I’ll at least brave the crowds at the supermarket as we’ve run out of green thing to eat.
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