Monday, June 17, 2013

Farewell, Fukuoka!

Tomorrow, I'm leaving Japan for a funeral, and I'm not coming back.

It's been a bittersweet day. I've spent most of it, in between moving and cleaning and errands and paperwork, just riding around taking pictures and saying goodbye to all my favorite spots. 

I must say, Fukuoka has given me a grand farewell: a night on the town with friends on Saturday, followed by two clear, hot summer days.

It's hard to put into words what I'm feeling right now. There's a lot to look forward to, a lot to miss, and a lot to regret. The last hurts most: the places I'll never get to see, the people I may never see again. While I'm ready to be living near family, I'm not quite ready to leave Japan. This marks the fourth time in my life I've picked up and moved to a different country. It doesn't get any easier. Then again, that's life, isn't it? You don't always get to finish things before they end.

Anyway, enough of my melancholy. Here's to three great years with a great wife in a great town in a great country. Here's to the next big adventure. And here's to Carl Eck - to Ampa - a great grandfather and a great man.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


As if we weren't busy enough, Nana was actually in charge of prom this year. In true Nana fashion, she knocked it out of the park and brought the whole thing in at half the cost of last year's event. Bravo!

The key breakthrough in this year's prom was Nana's realization that we didn't have to rent out an expensive hotel ballroom. Indeed, there's an entire industry in Japan dedicated to helping people host their parties outside their tiny, tiny homes - and many of them come pre-themed and pre-decorated!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jane Eyre the Musical in Japan/ ジェーン・エアミュージカル

OK, this post is only about.... six months late. But it's not like you guys were all going to hop on a plane and fly out here to see it, so nobody got hurt. 

Justin and I love Jane Eyre. It's his favorite book, and my favorite "classic" (my favorite book could probably not be chosen if you held me at gunpoint). It's also a favorite of my sister's, and back when we were in high school, we used to listen to the soundtrack to the short-lived Broadway musical together. The musical is actually quite good, but I can understand why it didn't do well on Broadway. First, literary revivals aren't exactly "the thing" these days (maybe if they'd done the musical with songs from a band that was popular in the 80s, or made it somehow ironic), and second, the story doesn't lend itself to visual spectacle, a Broadway hallmark.

But a translated version of the Jane Eyre musical has actually done quite well in Japan, where the expectations for musical theater are very different. We were really excited to see the posters around town, since we figured it might be our only chance to ever see this show.

Our beloved music teacher friend Aki is my ticket hookup for Japanese musical theater. She has helped us with our Takarazuka tickets (although not the show in this post; we've been to 3 others), and also the tickets for Elisabeth in Osaka. She told us that the actress playing Jane, Takako Matsu, is a really big deal with a long theatrical and film career. In fact, Matsu played Jane Eyre before, and some of these performances are available on Youtube. Here's one of my favorites, a scene in which Jane paints a portrait of herself and her rival and finds herself lacking:

Japan (and East Asia in general) has a huge bias towards sopranos in popular music. I'm not an expert and can't give you a breakdown or anything, but I hear a lot of women on the radio or in public sound systems singing in chirpy, childish voices that sound very odd to Americans. There are a lot of other things to be said about this, and what it implies about gender in Japan, but that's too much for now. We can summarize by saying this is not the land of Adele, and that I enjoyed hearing Matsu sing like a young but definitely post-pubescent woman.

On the other hand, I didn't always love her speaking voice. She sounded artificially high, borderline chirpy territory, in a lot of her dialogue. It might have been an attempt to make Jane sound younger, or to have her sound conventionally feminine, but it sounded all wrong to me for Jane. Whether or not it sounded wrong to Japanese people, I can't say.

And then Rochester. My goodness, Satoshi Hashimoto is one heck of a Rochester. In fact, I'd say Hashimoto is the best Rochester I've ever seen, and yes, I've seen Timothy Dalton and Toby Stephens. With his long hair and six-foot frame, he was a dominant physical presence on the stage, and he can sing like anything. Plus, let's be honest: he's pretty ridiculously hot. Fortuitously, he was also Rochester in the 2009 version, from which these Youtube clips derive, so you can see the awesome for yourself. This is the musical's flagship song, Secret Soul in English, and the main idea is how Jane and Rochester love each other but can't share or talk about it. Hashimoto comes in about halfway through:

HOO boy.

There's a problem which faces any writer adapting Jane Eyre for film, TV, and stage adaptations: Jane, for all that she's a wonderful, lively first person narrator in the book, doesn't always talk enough to be as interesting when you can't hear her thoughts. About halfway, this (and many other adaptations) stops being Jane Eyre the musical and starts being Edward Rochester the musical. The proposal scene was the turning point, and you can see the problem pretty clearly in this video. Jane has a solid two minutes of just sitting and listening to Rochester sing about how flawed he is and how much he hopes Jane can save him. Then, after a momentary break for four words of dialogue, she gets to listen for another minute. In the book, she's having all sorts of thoughts and reactions to this sequence. On stage, since we can't hear any of that, Rochester takes over the scene.

Which, you know, he can handle. But still, it's a bit odd to lose Jane so frequently. That's a flaw in the script and writing, though, not in the performance of this cast.

The last thing I'll mention, because I couldn't think of another place to put it, is the staging. Hakataza (Hakata Theater) usually looks like a typical stage, but for Jane Eyre they added additional risers of seating in the back. It wasn't quite a theater-in-the-round, but it had a very open and interesting layout. It's the same as the one in the 2009 staging, so the videos you can click on up there look like what I saw in Fukuoka. I took this photograph before the show began to show the spare set and stage.

As Justin pointed out, you know you're in a 19th century novel when there are that many crosses lying around to mark the many graves you're going to need to get through the story.

Overall, this was an outstanding evening of theater, and I wish some of the US Jane fans could have seen it. I am very glad to have had the chance to see a great professional production of one of my favorite soundtracks, even if I only technically understood less than one in twenty words.

Okay, one in fifty. Just memorize the soundtrack before you go, and you'll be fine.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day in Japan

Japan is adorable. Japanese Mother's Day (May 12, which I think is the same as elsewhere?) is therefore equally adorable.

Look at the adorable gift from my coworker:

Justin is the brown dog, I'm the white rabbit, and Mystery Child is the dog-rabbit hybrid. Dobbit?
This is darker than I thought...

Ever wonder why Japan is so much politer than other countries? In Japan, children start learning manners BEFORE BIRTH. Hey, with the queasies and the pukies and the ever-expanding wardrobe costs, Baby's already got a lot to thank me for! I dig this!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

More postal shenanigans

Back in February, I received a long-lost letter which was accidentally routed to Jamaica instead of Japan. I speculated that this was because Jamaica occurs just before Japan on drop-down menus, and someone clicking quickly could easily have chosen the wrong country.

I have no explanation for this.

And as Justin puts it... "Who is Miss Sent?"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Great News!

I'll give you a hint: she's not old and she's not injured.
Well, it's been a pretty eventful few weeks, which is why you haven't heard much from us in a while.

A lot of what's been happening has been under the radar, some of it pretty bad news (friends and family can get details directly from us or our parents) - but we have some excellent news to share with you today: Nana and I are expecting our first early this winter, after we move "back" to Columbus in June.

Dan and Kath, as expected, are beside themselves with joy.

Of course, this means we'll be wrapping the Senseitions up in the next couple of months as we transition back to the US. There are a couple posts in the pipeline, including (I hope) a suitably sentimental farewell to the country we've so happily called home the last three years, but I'm afraid we're less likely to go out with a bang than with a whimper.

Just in case these next couple weeks fly by even faster than we're expecting them to, we'd like to thank our readers for following our travels here and at The Educated Burgher and School of ROK these last five years.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A wrinkle in space-time

Riding home tonight, I stopped to avoid a confused little girl, who then turned around and backed into my stationary tire. The mother told her, "Nana, be careful!" I said, "Her name is Nana? MY name is ALSO Nana!" Then Mom and I agreed that this was pretty "Sugoi," or "Wow."

I feel like if I had run her over, in addition to all other legal issues, I might have created the sort of space-time paradox of which sci-fi misadventures are made. Also the unraveling of universes. Better not to take the chance.

Japanese lesson:
(O-namae wa Nana desu ka?)
Name (subj) Nana is (question)?
Is her name Nana?
Watashi no namae mo Nana desu!
I-possessive name also Nana is!
My name is Nana too!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kagura Dance Show at the Hiroshima Kita Hotel

The night between our Mizuho Highland ski day and our drive through Yamaguchi to visit the famous five-story pagoda, Nana and I stopped with some friends at the Hiroshima Kita Hotel. We lucked out in terms of timing: the night of our stay was a special dinner show featuring a troupe of Kagura dancers.

Kagura is a kind of dance-theater that, like the better-known but significantly more staid Noh, grew out of old Shinto religious rituals. Modern Kagura draws on a wide range of folk tales, literary works, and episodes from history, and Hiroshima is one of its most active hotbeds. It's extremely high-energy, with a raucous live music ensemble and acrobatic choreography.

Sometimes, you go to these cultural things in Japan just to say that you've done them, but in reality they're actually so boring you leave halfway through. (See: Geisha shows.)

Kagura is not one of those things. It's loud, fast, and very intense. Really: it was so gripping I can barely remember what we had for dinner!

This is where Freddie Mercury gets it.
(Somehow I missed this guy's transformation into a crazy-haired fox. Too absorbed to take photos!)

Another tragic episode from the Tale of Genji.

These guys were awesome. Check out that hair!

This picture and the ones below are from our friend George,
who is a much more skilled (and more prolific) photographer than I.

I wish I could remember whatever stupid thing I was saying right here.

Pictures with the cast after the show.

Yes, that's a giant anchor.
I should also mention that the staff and the performers were profoundly amused to have a table of gaijin in the audience. When they were raffling off little souvenir plastic folders, they straight-up just gave them to us, after making a long speech in Japanese thanking us (I think) for coming all the way from America to see them. I didn't have the heart or the language skills to tell them we'd only come up from Fukuoka (and that a lot of us weren't American).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Yamaguchi: Ruriko-ji's Five Story Pagoda

Thanks, George, for the photo!
There is no building quite as iconically Asian as the pagoda. Earlier this spring, Nana and I visited an example particularly beloved among the Japanese as we passed through Yamaguchi on our way back from skiing at Mizuho Highland. (More on that later, perhaps.)

The five-story pagoda at Ruriko-ji isn't the biggest or most spectacular in Japan, but it benefits from being 1) very old (1442), and 2) in a beautiful location. It sits in a pretty little park on a wooded hillside at the edge of the city, looking out over the broad valley in which Yamaguchi sits.

But the pagoda wasn't the only attraction here: the rest of the temple grounds were also lovely, especially with the flowers just starting to bloom.

I think this is a Japanese foot shiatsu diagram. Maybe you put the coin on the spot where you would put the needle?

I loved this stone lantern in the pond.

Plum blossoms!

(Note: We were actually on this trip with a bunch of friends from our apartment building, but I forgot to ask them for permission to include them in this entry - and I don't like posting pictures of people without permission. My apologies to the rest of the Nishijima Mansion crew!)