City skyscape photo that I took from Odaiba

Monday, April 14, 2008

A love of flowers

As I heard on the Tokyo news tonight (they do simultaneous translation to English which I listen to using my TV's bilingual function):

"And now the weather. The dandelions are now in bloom. The weather has been warming up, so they are now visible for us to enjoy. When it rains or is cloudy, they close up. So, it depends on the weather. And when it is windy, their seeds scatter. So we can enjoy the flower again next year."

That's certainly a different perspective.

And then they proceeded to talk about the cherry blossom front.

They have maps to show when the flowers are blooming across the country.

The cherry blossoms are a huge deal here. They are a signal of spring and a time to celebrate their fleeting beauty. People come out in droves for cherry blossom viewing parties, or hanami. Basically, people gather at parks, sit on tarps, and eat and drink under the blossoms. It has been wonderful fun. The weather has been much more pleasant lately and the blossoms provide an excellent excuse to be outside. Public drinking is legal here, so it has been interesting to see families with babies picnicking next to loud, drunk college-aged party-goers. Anyway, here are some of my best cherry blossom photos from the last couple weeks:

Gibberish no more!

So, I was chatting with one of my friends back home who likes origami. Actually, that is an understatement -- who is obsessed by origami creations in his free time (to my friend: if you're reading this post, by obsession I mean that you are an origami sensei, a master ;) ). Apparently, there is this out of print book called "Super Complex Origami" by Issei Yoshino. My friend really wants to be able to get a copy, but he can't read the Japanese Amazon site and can't figure out where he can buy one. Well, I have the ability on my computer to type with hiragana and katakana (the basic Japanese alphabets), so I tried to search with origami (おりがみ) and the author's name (よしの いっせい) in hiragana. But I think because the book is out of print, I wasn't having much luck on Amazon. Then my friend sends me a link with a picture of the book:

And I thought, "Oh! That's fantastic. The book title is in katakana, which I can read and search on." So I did a search on スーパー コンプレックス おりがみ and got the following results list, which I sent to my friend:

But he said his computer didn't have the ability to read Japanese characters, so he couldn't tell what anything said. So I was clicking on the links and most of them were just people proudly displaying their super complex origami masterpieces. However, then I found one that was an auction site for the book. So, I happily sent my friend the link.

Again, though, he told me his computer couldn't display Japanese, and he sent me the image of what he could see:

So I took a screen shot and sent it to him, so he could read it. I told him it was ¥10,000 though, which is about $100. And that I couldn't really tell what it said, but it looked like maybe the auction actually ended in December...

To which he responded, "Let me get this straight. I send you an image of gibberish that I can't read. To help me, you send me back another image of gibberish, albeight more organized-looking, but which I also can't read."

Then we had a good laugh. :)

But what was notable about the exchange was that one, I actually successfully found the book for sale while searching in Japanese and two, I hadn't really thought that sending him the screen shot image wouldn't be helpful. I actually typed along with the attachment, "Here, now you can read it." Anyway, so perhaps I am beginning to think much less of Japanese as "gibberish" than I used to.

My usual reaction to a page of Japanese characters used to be one of natural indifference, and therefore in a sense avoidance, because they held no meaning for me. But still, I really don't know hardly any kanji (the main characters that make up the Japanese language), so I still don't understand the Japanese I see for the most part, but slowly more and more is coming together.

I remember the very first time I ever recognized kanji on my own in a real life situation. I was on the subway and we had just stopped at a station. I was looking at an advertisement out the subway window that was of an old Japanese map, which correspondingly, had lots of Japanese writing all over it. And suddenly it dawned on me that some of the writing was the name of the areas and their respective number for the address system. So the area's name kept repeating, but the number would be different at the end. Esp. the first three numbers in Japanese are very simple, so it was easy to see: 1: 一 2: 二 3: 三 . So, for example, some sections on the map would have looked something like this: 西新宿 西新宿 西新宿三. And then when I recognized the pattern, I was able to understand what it meant, and I was quite delighted that I had figured it out in the short 15 seconds that the subway stopped at that station. And as counterintuitive as it may seem, at the same time, I remember feeling surprised that the usually nonsensical characters held meaning.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I just got pulled over by a cop

Quick background. We just had two of our old foreign teachers finish their contracts two weeks ago and two new ones come. Although I already had a bike (it was a small, fold-up one with tiny wheels [read = slow and sweat-producing]), I bought a regular-sized bike, with a basket, from one of the outgoing teachers. I then sold my small bike (at quite a bargain price, to be fair) to one of the new teachers.

So the new coworker who bought my bike lives one station north of me, which is fairly close (maybe 5 minutes by bike, 15ish walking). So he came with me to my apartment tonight to pick up the bike, and then, because I know the area better, I went with him (both of us with bikes now) to show him how to get to his station from my place. And afterwards we got dinner and drinks at an izakaya.

So then after dinner, a little before 1:00 a.m., I am biking home and I pull up at a stoplight right after I pass a cop. He then walks over to me and we have the following conversation [in brackets = conversation in Japanese]:

Cop: [Do you speak Japanese?]
Me: [A little]
Cop: [What's your name?] your name?
Me: (I dismount my bike and say my name)
Cop: (pointing at the registration number on my bike) [Is this bike registered in your name?]

Important sidenote:
1. Bikes must be registered in your name and police officers sometimes stop people to ask this question to help prevent bike thefts. They also sometimes ask stop foreigners to ask to see their Alien Registration Card.
2. I still had not changed the bike registration from my previous coworker's name to mine.
3. From what I understand, it is illegal to drink and ride your bicycle here, and there is a zero-limit for alcohol. Although I was not drunk, I did have a beer and some sake.
4. Throughout our entire conversation, people are passing by and staring, trying to overhear why the cop has stopped the gaijin.

Me: [No. My friend.]
Cop: [What is your friend's name?]
Me: Sarah Johnson*
Cop: [Where is she?]
Me: [Saitama (the prefecture north of Tokyo).] She moved two weeks ago. [work]. We were coworkers... [I bought the bike (although I used the wa particle instead of the o particle, so I said this sentence a bit wrong)]
Cop: ?
Me: [I bought the bike...]
Cop: ?
Me: [bought... buy... I bought the bike.]
Cop: [Whose name is the bike registered under?]
Me: Sarah.

The the cop radios some station, gives them the bike registration number, and they respond back with the name. But it sounded kinda fuzzy, and I'm not sure he could really make out the name anyway... So at this point, he looked slightly perplexed as to what to do.

Cop: [Bike] something something something
Me: [I'm sorry. Bike?]
Cop: [Bike] something, something, something
Me: [I'm sorry. I don't understand.]

pause while he contemplates what to do.

Cop: [Can you call Sarah?]
Me: [Yes. On my cellphone?]
Cop: [Yes. Or is it too late?]
Me: [I don't know.] (knowing actually that yes, it was too late and she would be asleep...)
Cop: [Does Sarah speak Japanese? Sarah] do you speak Japanese?
Me: [Yes, she speaks Japanese.] Should I call?
Cop: [Yes.]

I call, but it goes straight to her voicemail, thankfully. However, he could at least see Sarah's name come up on my cell phone. And then I tried to call again to let him listen to the voicemail, but he didn't seem to want to listen. So then we are stuck again.

Me: [I'm sorry... Do you understand English?]
Cop: [a little]
Me: (pausing frequently, talking slowing, and using some gestures) Sarah and I worked together... [work.] Two weeks ago, she finished work. She got a new job in Saitama, two weeks ago. [I bought the bike. But,] I need to change the registration.
Cop: pause as he contemplates what to do. [It's okay. I'm sorry. You can go.]
Me: (bowing) [I'm sorry. Excuse me.]

And then we both rode off rather quickly, I think happy to do be done with our awkward, attention-creating exchange.

Anyway, so that all turned out okay, I guess. But I was really nervous that 1. he was going to confiscate my bike or 2. I was going to get in trouble for drinking and riding my bike. Add onto my nervousness the fact that all this took place at the crosswalk of a fairly busy traffic light (considering the time) and at least 10 people went by sticking their neck out and staring, curious to overhear why the foreigner was being stopped by the cop. I think I spoke just enough Japanese to explain what was happening, kind of, but not enough to be able to understand him tell me what I was doing wasn't allowed.

Moral is: register your bike and don't stop at crosswalks near cops on unregistered bikes.

*I changed my coworker's name.