Monday, April 24, 2006

Season’s First Tree Climb

I meditatively stand in the upper reaches of a deciduous tree, trying to figure out how to dislodge a piece of cedar tree from it.

On Saturday I went to Mutsu to help cut down a couple of cedar trees that were blocking sunlight from the gardens surrounding the church cemetery (consisting of one shared mausoleum). Originally the pastor and I thought that we would be facing the project alone, and my role was to climb up the bigger cedar and tie a rope around the upper trunk so that we could guide it to fall in the right direction. However, when we arrived at the cemetery we were met by a friend of the church who had brought along a couple of retired lumberjacks belonging to his family. They looked frail and aged but, respecting their professional lumberjack demeanours, we stood aside and let them at it. I will kick myself a thousand times for not photographing the wizened old 73 year-old leisurely walking up the tree trunk using just his hands and a couple of spikes strapped to the bottom of his boots, with the coil of rope dangling from his shoulder. Being a purist, I had planned to slither up the tree trunk hand over hand, relying only on my upper body strength, the sparsely scattered half inch twigs growing out of knots in the trunk, and body traction. I would not have looked nearly as smooth or professional as he did. I began to worry that perhaps my presence there that day was altogether unnecessary, but my moment of glory came when the old gentlemen miscalculated and sent the larger of the two cedar trees crashing into a deciduous tree on the other side of the garden. The top broke off in two large pieces and lodged firmly in the other tree’s forked trunk. This posed a problem for the old guys since spikes don’t work so well on hard wood and the broken pieces of cedar formed a formidable obstacle. Deciduous trees are my specialty, so this was my moment. My winter-weakened skin suffered some terrible scrapes and scratches from the cedar branches, but my tree-climber’s honour was at stake, and pushed my way to the top and, with much effort, wrenched free the cedar tops and flung them to the ground.

This is the deciduous tree after I freed it from the wreckage of the cedar tree. Observe the disgruntled crow.

When the sun rose that morning, the crow’s nest was nestled securely in the lofty boughs of the tall cedar tree. By mid afternoon it lay abandoned on the ground beside the felled tree. Notice the coat hanger. At least three coat hangers had been used in the construction of the nest.

The Wrathful Raven Sinisterly Sits Above the Tomb Posts of the Neighbouring Tenrikyou Graveyard

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Joint Birthday Party

Lonely Birthday Boy, or: “Can We Start Yet?”

Since Yuko and Mr. Muraguchi have birthdays within a week of each other and since Yuko and I enjoy entertaining people at home, we invited the Muraguchis and some mutual friends over for a joint birthday party.

The Above Mentioned Joint Birthday Party, Held in Our Dining Room Kitchen

Mr. Muraguchi’s Birthday Shirt (not the one he was born with) Scene 1

Mr. Muraguchi’s Birthday Shirt Scene 2

Yuko also received some birthday presents that excited her, but she managed not to get whipped cream on them. Of these, the birthday chocolates have already been eaten, but her new food processor will probably feature in future posts.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Birthday Bunny

No, Yuko isn’t the Birthday Bunny. The Birthday Bunny was a domestic rabbit that lived and died in France before being cut up and shipped to the northern recesses of rural Japan.

This is the Birthday Bunny, in its new garden of delights. Well, at least it was to our delight. Yuko and I have been reading Laura Ingles Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods together, so I think it’s only a matter of time before she starts asking me to take a long rifle out to the back woods and bring home rabbits and bears for the table. In the mean time, she contented herself with a farm-grown bunny to celebrate her 30th birthday. Happy 30th, Yuko, and many happy returns of the day!

Yuko with Her Baked Birthday Apple (in Lieu of a Cake)

We celebrated at our favourite “local” (i.e. only an hour’s drive away) restaurant: Pomodoro

Yuko poses with a birthday cookie sent to her by a dear friend from down south.

Days of the Week

Every spring I suffer from an inexplicable urge to “do a better job.” This is especially true in relation to my job as an Assistant Language Teacher, and it is exacerbated by the fact that April is the start of the new school year in Japan. Last April I shaped a new and improved elementary school English curriculum and spent hours on PowerPoint creating flashcards and English bulletins. This April I shaped a new and improved elementary school English curriculum and spent hours on PowerPoint creating flashcards and English bulletins. My opening lesson for the new school year is my new and improved Days of the Week lesson.

This has, in fact, been an illuminating lesson for me as well. You see, like most people, I just assumed that the days of the week in Japan must be named after some archaic list of elements or something: fire (火), water (水), wood (木), metal/gold (金), earth (土), with the sun (日) and moon (月) thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t until I was researching the English names for the days of the week and discovered that the days of the week have commonly been named after heavenly bodies since the times of ancient Babylon that I began to suspect . . . . And sure enough, in Japanese, Mars is called kasei (火星) and so on. It turns out that in most elementary school classes, at least one kid will already know about this. Not only has this “Days of the Week” lesson been illuminating for me, but it has also been a bit distressing to teach. The heavenly bodies have long been worshiped throughout the world, and in manner like to many civilizations the Romans named the heavenly bodies after their pantheon of gods. While it is written in the book of Genesis that God said: “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years . . . ,” it is not for me to pay lip service to false gods, or to honour them by naming them in the days of the week. In fact, the very word “Tuesday” has, in English, become a little repulsive to me. This led me to take a look at the names of the week in other languages, and I was quite surprised by what I found. I would recommend checking out the charts at the bottom of this Wikipedia article. It's quite interesting!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Resurrection Day Greeting: “He is Risen.” Response: “He is Risen Indeed.”

Easter Morning: Ajigasawa Chapel
In I Corinthians chapter 15 the Apostle Paul writes “ . . . if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins . . . . If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” This principle threads its way back through the epistles and gospels of the New Testament, back through the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, all the way back to the first chapters of the first book of Moses in which we read of death entering the world through sin. It is the conviction that Jesus Christ is the Seed of the Woman who would crush the Serpent’s head; that he is the Seed of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. This Easter, as my wife and I anticipate, Lord willing, the birth of our first child in July, I was awakened in a new way to the third verse of the hymn “Because He [Jesus Christ] Lives”:

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives.
But greater still the calm assurance,
This child can face uncertain days because He [Jesus] lives.

I find many passages in the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures exciting, but one in particular is in Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica which reads, in part:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
So here, as those who believe in Him celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, I repeat the second to last verse in the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

The Resurrection Story, from the Book of Luke (the apostle Luke, that is, not me).
Resurrection Story: The Sequel Part I, also by the apostle Luke

Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring Makes Beautiful Things Ugly

Fujimiko in the Spring
By spring, I don’t mean flowers blooming and warm gusts blowing in freshly budding tree branches. When that happens I call it “early summer.” I mean spring as it truly is: cold, wet, violently windy . . . gloomy grey and dirty brown. I mean the end of snowboarding and the beginning of mud. Spring is when all the things that died under the snow reappear and rot slowly. Having said that, I am trying to come to terms with rot and the cold, dirty genesis of new plant life by taking up composting and gardening this year.

The Expedition To Uncover My In-laws’ Compost Bin in February

Our Own Indoor Composter (Actually, to be honest, we don’t keep Stinker in the kitchen anymore since experience taught us the huge difference between aerobic and anaerobic bacteria.)
We got Stinker at half price at Sunday’s which was great, but then we found out that every three months we have to buy new supplies of coconut fibres and aerobic bacteria. I tried to cheat once by using rice bran (which is freely available from roadside rice polishing machines) instead of coconut fibres, but I quickly discovered that this does not work because rice bran ferments quickly and does not “breath”. Our relatively odour-free store-bought aerobic bacteria were quickly smothered and spontaneously replaced by reeking anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that thrive with no oxygen). I had to carry Stinker out to the garden at night in a snowstorm and empty him a whole month early because he smelled so bad. Since that failed experiment we have faithfully ordered new shipments of coconut fibres every three months. Even so, the third month is usually a smelly one inside the composter, so we keep Stinker in the storage room now. I still hope to find a free substitute for coconut fibre . . . maybe rice hulls or something.

Standby for blueprints of our garden to be . . . .

Feral JET: Honshu’s Northern Most Assistant Language Teacher

Travis Harper Comes In Out of the Wild All Hairy and Starved
Last year I titled my very first Keitai Cinema production Feral JET (look for it on the side bar). It wasn’t really a production. It was just me experimenting with my then new video camera cell phone in the board of education’s toilets. I am happy to report that I have married since then and become (nominally) domesticated. Now my wife and I are working on taming some of the still feral JETs lurking even deeper in the wilds of Shimokita. The last time I saw Honshu’s northernmost JET he was a clean shaven Californian carrying on sophisticated conversations about Ministry of Education publications. That was before the coming of winter. The other day we invited him over for an okonomiyaki party and he had grown quite hairy and wild, albeit with his intellect still in tact. For good measure we invited Mr. Nioka, another of our feral friends (pictured here gnawing on an okonomiyaki). Now to scour the mountainsides for lost JETs from past generations . . . there could yet be some who missed their plane rides home living among the monkeys.