Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Eulogy: The Tragic Life (and Death?!) of Mobile Man

This is the new reality. Gaijin for Life has lost its means of generating original photography and video footage. Keitai Cinema has lost its principal asset. The only course now open to this organization is salvaging stockpiled media, pirating, and relying on the dubious literary talent of its sole member.

Today’s article should be full of quaint photos of barefoot children splashing through local rice paddies partially obscured by the maritime mists rolling off the Tsugaru Straight; but its not. There should be a new Keitai Cinema production in the works entitled Children of the Rice: Hebiura Elementary’s Agrarian Outing; but there’s not. Instead, we are left face to face with the tragic story of one man’s cell phone and how it perished in the wilderness of Aomori far, far away from its industrial birthplace. This is that story.

I first christened my cell phone “Mobile Man” a few days ago, when it yet again demonstrated a remarkable facility for survival. I initially intended to call it MIK (My Indestructible Keitai) Endurance, but that is beside the point. It was a beautiful sunny day, so although I didn’t leave work until five o’clock I decided to take to the mountains and climb Hiuchi-dake. Being short of time, I drove up the gravel road leading to the mountain, and since I was impatient I accidentally stopped Thumper somewhere short of the target and hiked up the wrong mountain. The summit was completely obscured by trees and brush, so I found it necessary to climb the biggest tree at the highest point in order to confirm that I was indeed on the wrong mountain. I also wanted to get some photos of the magnificent view I was sure would open up before me once I got above the tree canopy. About forty feet up, my cell phone fell out of my pocket and bounced from branch to branch until the sound of its decent faded out of my range of hearing. Afraid that darkness would overtake me before I located it I immediately followed it down the tree (at a slower rate). Fortunately I sited it lying open on the dirt trail before my feet even touched the ground. It appeared to be unharmed . . .

. . . so I took a picture of the tree as a memorial to Mobile Man’s durability. Little did I imagine that Mobile Man’s thwarted destiny would overtake him just a few short days later. The following photos turned out to be the last clear view Mobile Man had of this world.

Inset: A close up of 1) Hakodate-yama, 2) Cape Oma, 3) Kazamaura Village hamlets Ikokuma and Hebiura, and 4) for the optically blessed, Kazamaura’s two wind turbines. The body of water is the Tsugaru Straight, separating Aomori from Hokkaido.

This is an artist's rendition of what happened to Mobile Man yesterday when I went rice planting with Hebiura Elementary School. Like most artistic renderings, it contains many inaccuracies. The event actually took place before the rice planting began, just as the kids were starting their usual “We shall work harder” opening ceremony. And Mobile Man did not fall into the rice paddy itself—it actually fell (some would say “was dropped by its owner”) onto the hard packed gravel road before bouncing into an irrigation ditch next to the rice paddy. I desperately fished around in the cold, deep irrigation ditch for what felt like a minute (the spectators claimed it was only about twenty-seconds) until I found it, but by that time Mobile Man had lost all its vital signs. For the rest of the afternoon, Mobile Man lay in pieces on my oyaji-towel while I joined the kids in the mud with baskets full of rice plants.

Later that evening, this is the first thing Mobile Man saw when it finally regained conciousness after hours of blow drier treatment. Would Mobile Man live again unscathed?

Alas, no. This is what the world looks like to Mobile Man now. His retina appears to be damaged, and all attempts to get him focused on a subject result only in a feeble grinding noise and failure.

This is a difficult time of reflection and tactical planning at Gaijin for Life. It is a time to cut losses, deflect blame, and consider all possible courses of action. The following is Gaijin for Life’s preliminary list of courses open:
1) Take Mobile Man back to the cell phone shop whence he came and see if the one year warranty I got for him is worth anything.
2) See if it’s possible to end my Vodafone service, and then try to sign up with a different credit card and under a slightly different version of my name. If successful, this would enable me to get a new V602SH for 1 yen (I originally paid 28,000 yen last August, when it was still a new model) or the newer V902SH (which can be used overseas) for about 6,000 yen.
3) Buy a V902SH for its full price of 35,000 yen.
4) Dump Vodafone for real and get a new customer’s special deal on whatever DoCoMo phone has the very best camera and video features.
5) Abandon my niche genras of cell phone photography and Keitai Cinema and just get a real camera and a weeney teeney cell phone used only for phone calls. (Oh, wait, in that case I could just keep Mobile Man since its only problem in the first place is an inability to focus on images.)
6) Give up blogging, cell phones, and cameras altogether and take up knitting.

Friday, May 27, 2005

$1 Billion!!! Kazamaura’s Cut of the Juicy Jomon Pie

I ought to begin by clarifying that $1 billion is the whole pie (on an annual basis), not the speck of crumb that Kazamaura got its sticky fingers on.

Now that that little point is cleared up . . . . I have been aware for quite some time that there is a Jomon era archaeological dig going on in Kazamaura. In fact, I had always meant to check it out someday. I figured that I would wander up the creek bed in Hebiura that someone told me led to it, and that I would find a few tarps and three or four archaeologist types in straw hats puttering around a little hole. So I was quite surprised yesterday when I finally did visit the site with my supervisor (it was one of my office days, with absolutely no scheduled work on my plate).

I knew that things were not as I had imagined when we stopped by the field office that housed both a construction company’s supervisory staff and the prefectural archaeologists. It finally sank into my head that this was one of those mandatory pre-construction excavations. As is the case in most wealthy nations, there are regulations in Japan that require the discovery of archaeological artefacts on construction sites to be followed up with a state directed archaeological dig prior to further construction. And the central government is especially anxious to develop knowledge about the Jomon period. In order to understand why the quest for Jomon era artefacts is such an obsession in Japan, I would recommend reading this article in its entirety. Although the website I found it on seems a little peculiar, the article itself was written by a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times correspondent for the Far East. This means that whether the information contained therein is pure, transcendent truth or crass, diabolical lies, it is sanctioned by the normative powers of the English speaking world and you have to . . . but I digress.

We were instructed to follow the lady with the bucket down through the ongoing construction of a culvert and up the opposite hillside (which will no doubt eventually be removed altogether to make way for the new back road being put in).

As we crested the hill I was met by a most unexpected site—about thirty or forty enslaved village women (and a few men) scraping away at the earth and clay, uncovering tree roots and carrying away the refuse in wheel barrows. Standing over them in their straw hats and fancy grey work jackets were the prefectural archaeologists wielding clipboards and surveying equipment. No whips, but I could hear some of the women muttering about those lousy “Straw Hats.”

On closer inspection I discovered that this crowd was virtually a Who’s Who list of “mom’s I know.” This little sub-group was still tickled by a remarkable performance of mine in the junior high school’s Sports-fest the other day, so when I asked if I could photograph them at work they happily agreed. I am therefore mystified as to why, by the time I got my cell-phone camera turned on, one of them had fled the scene and the other two had carefully positioned their faces away from me.

As soon as I put my cell-phone away, though, they cheerfully chattered away with me and showed me their findings of the day: a plastic bag full of flint blades and the tip of a buried pot. The metal fragment, of course, is from a gardening implement of the twentieth century. The hill on which the site is located used to be covered by gardens back when the villagers grew all their own food. Then, some decades after the War, the gardens were replaced by cedar trees during a lumber boom. The villagers have always been aware of the archaeological significance of the hill, since they used to uncover pottery and stone knives all the time in their gardens, but it wasn’t until the road was slated to go through that funding kicked in for a proper excavation.

As far as the village is concerned, the whole project is a gravy train. Last year applicants were selected evenly from the three different hamlets of Kazamaura, and the lucky chosen ones began digging back in April, and they will carry on doing so at the rate of ¥6,800 a day until sometime in October. No perks. Out of curiosity I calculated my own daily wages from my annual JET salary: ¥13,846 basic; or, taking into account my twenty days paid leave, ¥15,000; or, also taking into account my six days of marital leave,¥15,385. I really don’t feel up to calculating in my wedding bonus or my travel allowances for conferences and whatnot.

A Close Up of the Pot Uncovered by the Guys in the Photo Above

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Twelve Tasks of Heracles Sister #4

Of all my sisters, perhaps Sister #2 is the most mysterious, the most unknown to the readers of this blog. Today, she shall remain so. Her day will come. Let us turn our attention instead to the slightly less mysterious Sister #4. This week I pulled Sister #4 away from her duties as a freelance high school student and set her on a quest to perform a series of tasks—most importantly those of serving as chaperon for me and Yuko during another of my brief visits to Sapporo and of beginning work on Yuko’s wedding dress #2.

Sarah (Sister #4) joined me in Kazamaura for the weekend before we made our way up to Sapporo together on Monday. There is an unwritten rule that wheresoever two or more Elliot children shall gather, even there they shall watch no less than one movie together. Just to make certain, we pulled my good old Board of Education funded VCR and television unit out of the closet and watched three movies back-to-back.

Sarah Carrying Out One of Her Tasks

Picking Asparagus for Supper in the Takahashi Garden

Eating the Asparagus Carefully Wrapped in Pig Flesh (Mmmmmmmm. I can’t wait to keep my own pig. I hate the world of commercial farms and slaughter houses; but to tenderly raise my own bacon from a piglet; to feed it scraps from the family table; to scratch him behind the ears during slow moments in the day; and in the autumn to teach my children the basics of porcine anatomy and the butcher’s arts . . . . Ahh, pipe dreams.)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Video Blog #10 Golden Week: The Movie

4 min 53 sec at 11.6 MB (Original)
(Now playing in Google Video, as of 28 June 2006)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

An Explication of Sorts Concerning My Laxitude

I have no excuse. I’ve just been slacking. I’ve been sick and tired and caught up with work and now I’ve become lazy; addicted to hot baths and the Old Spice deodorant my father brought back for me from Canada.

Nevertheless, do not fear. There are plenty of places like this I have yet to explore in my very own Shimokita neighbourhood. Gaijin for Life is preparing to unleash upon the world a new, purpose driven adventure series, not to mention the all new Keitai Cinema production . . . Golden Week: The Movie.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Golden Week Part the First: Family Fun with Siblings

Clockwise from left: Luke, Yuko, Sister #1 (a.k.a. Anna Watanabe), Sister #3 (a.k.a. Mary), Ai-chan, and brother-in-law #1 (a.k.a. Jun Watanabe)

Food, fun and fellowship can be an elusive trinity. There have been times in my life when I have withered for lack of it, and so I place a great deal of value in the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of the evening represented in the photo above. Ai-chan, in the turquoise shirt and nearly obscured by my brother-in-law, is not technically family, but I think that all excellent families are characterized by a flexibility that can absorb honorary members in both the short term and the long. In our case there is the shared faith in Jesus Christ generating a context for our stories, discussions, and amusing anecdotes that is mostly lacking in our workaday relationships and social lives, and this mutual framework of thought, feeling, and experience is a treasure indeed.

A Visit to the Watanabe’s Wouldn’t Be Complete without a Little James Bond Action Thrown In

Golden Week Part the Second: How I Discovered that Lighthouse Church Houses One of Ichiro’s Famous Black Bats

Apparently Pastor and Mrs. McGinty used to be the youth pastor of ____________ pitcher _______________ when they were still living in Texas. He once asked them if there was anything he could get for them in the major leagues and they asked for an Ichiro bat . . . and here it is. Baseball dents, his signature, and everything! I never would have known they had it if I hadn’t mentioned to them that I watched a Mariners’ game in Seattle last July.

Golden Week Part the Third: Operation June Bride Continues . . . . . .

Yuko and Me Doing Our Complete Time Estimate for Our Mission; H-Hour is at 1100hours on 25 June

A Highly Censored and Heavily Cropped Preview of Yuko’s Wedding Dress*

This is the uncensored press release of Yuko’s hairstyle for the wedding. In short, we had a dress rehearsal at the wedding dress shop and then stopped for dessert on the way home.

*This photo should be inverted for proper viewing as the image fragment is from a reflection in a full-length mirror.

Golden Week Part the Fourth: A Boy for Boys’ Day

奏稀 (Souki) with His Mother

Boys’ Day on 5 May has been officially designated as “Children’s Day” in Japan since 1948. It would seem, however, that this is a superficial gesture (and unnecessary, since Hina-Matsuri—The Doll Festival—celebrated on 3 March is basically “Girls’ Day”). On Children’s Day people still celebrate Tango-no-Sekku, fly their tubular koinobori (“Ascending Carp” flags), and set up warrior dolls in glass cases. All these observances represent an earnest desire to see their sons grow up to be strong, aggressive, and self-confident.

奏稀 (Souki) with His Grandma Takahashi and His Aunt Yuko; I Am Myself Soon to be Legally Bound to奏稀 in the Capacity of Uncle

This year’s “Children’s Day” was a very special occasion in the Takahashi family due to the birth a few months ago of奏稀 (Sou-ki): first grandchild; first grandson. 奏 means “-play music, speak to a ruler, complete.” 稀 means “-rare, phenomenal.” My understanding is that his name is meant to evoke the image of a rare musical performance. In honour of his debut into the Takahashi family Yuko’s parents brought out the old warrior doll

originally purchased by Mrs. Takahashi’s parents for Yoshiyuki (father of奏稀).

Father and Grandfather Setting Up a Moveable Koinobori in Honour of Little 奏稀

Boys’ Day Family Photo Back row: Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi Sr.; Front row: from the left: Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi Jr. with baby 奏稀 and the Mr. and Mrs. Elliot in Waiting

I’m really looking forward to next year when little 奏稀 will be old enough (I hope) to undergo the time old ritual of having 1.8kg of mochi (pounded rice cake) tied to his back. Apparently the idea is to knock the kid over once he’s taken a few steps. If he gets up again and keeps walking, it means he is growing up to be a fine, tough young man. I think it’s great! According to Takahashi family lore, when Yuko's little brother Yoshiyuki was put through this "ordeal by mochi" she was so jealous that she insisted on getting a turn, too. They even have the photo album to prove it.

Golden Week Part the Fifth: Rice

This is a coin operated rice mill. Almost all rice sold in stores in Japan is white, and people who do buy brown rice in bulk can still come to one of these little “vending machines” to grind away all the nutritional value of their staple food. Since Mr. Takahashi is an employee of the Hokkaido government’s ministry of agriculture, he is one of the lucky few who can buy cheap brown rice directly from the Agricultural Cooperative Society. Although Yuko’s parents have been eating brown rice ever since her father was operated on for cancer last year, they went ahead and polished some of their rice for Golden Week in the spirit of family feasting. The visit to the rice mill afforded Mr. Takahashi an opportunity to carry away all of the discarded nuka (Japanese for “rice bran”) in order to use it as fertilizer in his garden.

This year, the birth of奏稀 (Souki) provided Yuko’s parents with the justification they needed for purchasing an electric mochi-maker. Just fill the tank with water, pour in the well soaked raw grains of mochi rice, and press the “Start” button. It will do up to 1.8kg of mochi at a time. (That’s right, my little nephew, 1.8kg—just enough to test your manhood next year!)

Sister #4, about Ten Years Ago, Demonstrating the Old Way to Make Mochi

Golden Week Part the Sixth: Some Other Stuff

I spent quite a bit of Golden Week helping Yuko’s father in his garden. Most of these sessions were in the early morning, before breakfast. The picture above, however, is of me and Yoshiyuki helping Mr. Takahashi set up his two grapevines on a sunny afternoon. First, though, we had to go shopping for supplies.

I was astonished. I have seen many massive “home-improvement” shopping complexes like this in North America, but certainly not where I live now in Shimokita; and certainly not with parking lots so full of big expensive cars. さすが北海道!!

The day before I left, we had a chance to visit Yuko’s great aunt who is a kind of fairy godmother to the family.

Enjoying a Quiet Evening in the Fields Near Yuko’s Place