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Monday, July 30, 2007

bicycle tours, wedding dresses, raucous ramen and a Buddhist blessing for my camera

I don't know quite how I manage it, but I always seem to make sure that I'm at least 2000% busier when on holiday. I guess it's because I allow myself to indulge in all the projects I have buzzing round in my head.

For many years now, I've wanted to sell my photos online. I'm not a particularly good photographer, but that's no excuse for me to not even try to become one (I wouldn't have said that a year ago!). Having a web site to sell my photos on gives me another reason to keep on trying to improve, aside from the passion that drives me. I'd love to be able to do a photography module at uni next year, but haven't a clue what Sheffield is like in the arts arena. I know that there's a Photography Soc; I'll definitely join them.

little Japanese purses

I hope to launch the site in the next week or so. It's a very simple data-base driven affair (I'm attempting to move away from being dependent upon Dreamweaver, not that the few thousand pages of TGW will be going all dynamic any time soon!) but crikey, I've had a real heachache sorting out the template, the Paypal bit, and trying to deal with so many different photo resolutions and sizes. I've reached the point a couple of times now where I've thought I've finished preparing the images, only to discover that I made a slight error at some point along the line which means I have to start all over again. Then there was that times when I accidentally renamed over 200 photos at the slip of a finger. Rather than rename them all again by hand I opted to start again from scratch, making yet another batch copy of the originals. Hurrah for Photoshop and automated actions!

But I love it. I love being creative.




Cycling tours of Japan

I'd like to spend a mo talking about a site that a friend pointed me towards a couple of days ago.

www.onelifejapan.com

Run by Kevin and his wife Tomoe, www.onelifejapan.com is the realisation of a dream that has been steadily growing within Kevin for some time. Formally a resident of Tokyo, Kevin recently made the brave decision to leave the job security he enjoyed in the capital, and follow his heart into the Japanese countryside.

www.onelifejapan.com specialises in bicycle tours of Japan - surely the best way to see the country. It's all very well coming to Tokyo to see the skyscrapers, and take the bullet train to Tokyo to admire the temples - but by limiting oneself to this pretty common package one is missing out on so much. Having Wwoofed in several far-flung corners of the country, I know just how much beauty there is out there - something that is only too easy to forget when one is cooped up in the concrete jungle for long periods of time. I'd strongly recommend to anyone a bicycle tour of Japan - especially with someone like Kevin, as he has spent a lot of time researching the routes and places of interest to stop at. Oooh, and you do some organic rice farming too! I've always wanted to do that (preferably with ducks), but haven't yet made it happen.

Kevin also happens to be a great photographer - check out his lovely canary! (or is it a budgie...?)

I like Kevin's philosphy, demonstrated through both the services that his new company provides, and through the decisions he has made this year. I hope to meet him and his wife at some point in the next couple of years - if I keep that thought in mind it will help me to get out on my bike next year in Sheffield - having the Peak District so nearby I'd be silly to not go exploring. And now I have a proper camera and a business to expand...




Phwarrrrr

Yesterday *Twinkle* and I visited a wedding dress shop in Ikebukuro. Although the wedding won't be until late 08 / early 09, it's important that we start to visualise the event, to help with planning.

Unfortunately I was told that I couldn't take any photos of *Twinkle* when she was actually wearing the dresses, as they were for sale (er, right...), so I only have a couple of pre-dress wearing shots.


I tell you what though, I was pretty blown away by the sight of her when she was wearing those dresses. There was one in particular, a figure hugging dress without the somewhat ridiculous fluffy puffy bottoms of the others that made her look like a plastic barbie doll, that really made my jaw drop. I literally stood there, thinking, "is this beautiful woman really going to marry ME?!"

I tried not to think about the price tag.




Visit to a world famous ramen (noodle) house

On the way home we decided that we'd eat out for a change. We rarely do this as we rarely have time our priorities are elsewhere - thus it was quite a treat. What better place to go than the nation-wide famous ramen shop just around the corner from our house. There's queues there ever day all day, starting hours before the place opens. If you think the Apple iPhone was popular, well, you should see this place. It has often been on TV, and quite a few famous people eat there on a regular basis, including the nation's kick-boxing lightweight champion.

It's just a shame that we didn't know exactly why its ramen was famous.

I loathe really spicy food. Stuff like Kimchi does nothing for me, but make me reach for a very big glass of water and wish I'd ordered something else.

Thus, I was somewhat startled by my first mouthful of the dish that was served up before me.

Elephants never eat noodles

This was no ordinary spicy. This was SUPER SUPER spicy, with an extra super spicyness attached, you know, blow your socks off spicy. They had big boxes of tissues on all tables, and a special water vending machine that dispensed ice and water at the same time into your cup. THAT'S how hot it was.

Then it all started to make sense. The pictures on the wall showing celebrities with tears flowing from their eyes, sweatbands round their heads. The kickboxer, who, in the magazine article pasted next to our table, said it was his "Power up food", and that's why he could kick so well.

It didn't really have any taste apart from hotness. And pain. We swapped dishes so I could dig the plain rice out from below the lake of fire they'd poured on *Twinkle*s monkodon. After a few spoons of that I was so full of water that I couldn't eat another thing. I decided not to be disappointed, and instead focused on the irony of it all, what with our meal having been a 'special treat'. I had to laugh.

Later that night we both suffered from stomach ache. At one point I did a half-vomit, burning my tongue with what came up. It made me wonder what the point in making such hot food was - surely it couldn't be good for you? Mind you, they make Mars Bars. I suppose the point is, it sells.




T-shirts and temples

*Twinkle*s parents returned from Egypt a couple of days ago. "And all I got was this lousy T-shirt!" No, not at all. I am known for my boring T-shirts, in fact boring clothes in general come to think of it (with a couple of notable exceptions), and I tend to rely on others to bring excitement into my wardrobe. Thus, I was delighted to be the recipient of a T-shirt with my name on in hieroglyphs: the Egyptian chap who sewed them on the spot to order mistakingly used an extra-small T-shirt the first time he sewed my name on, thus *Twinkle* also has a hieroglyphic T-shirt spelling out my name. We can wear them in tandem on our differing continents and be connected by the power of the pyramids. Maybe.

They also brought some chocolate back, which was bloomin gorge.

Anyhow, yesterday myself and *Twinkle* met up with mother and father in Eastern Tokyo for a trip to a rather interesting temple - Fukagawa Fudou. Her father knew of the place as his company had installed air conditioning in it some years ago (I thought that's what he did when he used to live in Iraq, but *Twinkle* tells me now that he was helping set a school up there. I must ask him about that next time I see him). Mother had also heard of the place, due to the traditional ceremony that takes place there every day.

I like temples. Mainly for their architecture - but bald-headed monks are pretty groovy in my book too, especially when they chant. I didn't have the foggiest what was going to happen during this service, and so simply took a seat between father and *Twinkle* and watched out for when they put their hands together to pray etc.

*Twinkle* and her father at the temple

Anyway, it wasn't long before I had forgotten all thoughts of boredom, as four monks entered the holy area clutching huge great sea shells, and playing them just like horns! I've never seen / heard anything like it! They could each get a couple of notes out of their shells, and together in harmony they really sounded absolutely splendid. The Buddhist priest then entered, and following a rather grand ceremony focusing upon the arranging of his robes (to avoid the necessity for ironing afterwards I think) he took a seat on the tatami in front of the coffee-table sized alter.

A second holy man entered the holy area, and handed him a great scroll, which the priest then unrolled, and began to chant out whatever was written there. I remember thinking at the time, "I hope he knows all the correct readings for the kanji, otherwise they'll be trouble".

He was then handed a wadge of papers. With my glasses on, I could just make out passport-sized photos on each page; he chanted out each persons name and job title, before moving on to the next one. Apparently, all these people had paid to be prayed for; what a cunning ruse.

The second he finished I nearly jumped out of my skin - just a few metres in front of me one of the musical monks suddenly raised a great big rolling pin above his head, and gave a huge taiko drum a great whack. It was just seconds before the other two drumming monks joined in at each side of the holy area, then came the monk hitting the bell-thing. It was a pretty groovy rhythm really, made even better by the chanting that suddenly broke out all around us: monks, staff and assembled crowd. Except for us, we didn't know the words, and glancing at what I suppose could be called a hymn book, I decided that no matter how close to God it brought me, the reading of those kanji would be more painful than they were worth.

one of my favourite photos this week: sections of hessian cloth used for the traditional curtain at the entrance to a restaurant.

It was shortly after this that I got my biggest shock. Here we were, in an ornate wooden temple, sitting on tatami mats, surrounded by paper scrolls - and the priest lit a blooming great fire in the middle of the alter! I think he must have used lighter fluid too because the little pile of sticks he had neatly piled in front of him went up in no time. I spent a little while worrying about the sparks setting light to the floor, but then decided that actually, if they do this every day, it couldn't be that dangerous.

The powerful drums beat on. The bell rang out. The chanting filled the room, and my eyes were glued to the magical flames. Every now and then the priest, who was also chanting, would start to hit a whole series of metal objects on the alter in front of him, making me wonder if he had actually always wanted to be a drummer in a rock band. That aside though, there was something rather magical about the atmosphere. I wondered, with so many open, loving souls in such a small space, could there fail to be such an atmosphere? My hair stood on end, and my heart beat faster, and I felt incredibly happy... I didn't want it to end, but the fire was starting to die down, despite the priest throwing little spoonfuls of some magical powder upon the flames, sending sparks flying high into the air. The drums were building to a crescendo; surely something had to happen.

And it did. One of the holy men reached over the mini wooded barrier which kept the masses (a.k.a. the 25 of us) at bay, and picked up someones bag. "What on Earth is he doing?" I thought, a thought which turned to "what the hell is he doing?!" as he held it over the flames!

Looking at the owner, I was a little surprised to see that the owner of the leather bag seemed positively grateful for this impromptu roasting! And suddenly, there were more people, now offering their bags to the arsonist. He'd wave them over the fire for a few seconds, and then return them to the smiling owner. Those who didn't have bags offered their wallets and purses - the idea was to rid the object of evil, and bless it. I considered handing him my 15kg rucksac, but thought he might drop it in the fire due to the weight of it. Eventually, I decided upon my camera. After all, it was a physical incarnation of my hopes and dreams, something that I dearly love, and which gives me great pleasure. And it was wrapped in its padded case (which I hoped was moderately fireproof).

I stood up, approached the man, and handed him the camera. As he took it, I stood there and focused upon the flames. I don't know what it was, but in that instant, I suddenly felt a wave of emotion come over me. As he handed the (thankfully unscorched) camera back, so I took my seat, and shed a few tears.




A Mystery Gift


The doorbell rang this afternoon. I was a bit surprised as we weren't expecting anything. Checked the intercom screen to make sure it wasn't the pony-tailed NHK TV license woman who started to bug us again last week (it wasn't), and opened the door. The delivery man handed me a pretty big box, asked me to sign, and was gone. What could it be?

I checked the address label, but couldn't make out the name of the sender. Hhhmm, that's odd. It was addressed to both of us... I opened the big box, waded through a few light years of packing, and eventually found another box in the middle. Opened that, and once again lost myself in a snowstorm of packaging. Finally, the precious contents were revealed: two rather funky glasses, the first non-inherited ones we now own.

No kidding. This is the box that the two glasses were packed in by the company that sent them on behalf of our friend.

I was still a bit mystified by the gift. I guessed that it was a congratulations-on-your-engagement gift (we've had a few of these, mainly in the form of cards and lovely flowers - thank you all!), but who'd sent it? Technology came to my aid, as I was able to enter the sender's phone number as detailed on the label into my phone, and do a search against all those listed. Finally, the mystery giver was revealed as one of my team mates from the 100k sponsored hike - Tsujimura san; what a kind and totally unexpected gesture! It was also a thank you for the meal last week, when both he and our other Japanese team mate, Osamu came over for tea.

That kind of gesture is the kind of gesture that I would like to make more of. It's the mark of a truly thoughtful person, and something that we need far more of in this world.

Thank you Tarou!

Anyway, it's very late now, so I'd better sleep.

oyasumi xxx

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