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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Kobe Luminarie

kobe luminaria_1963

Last week whilst in Kobe on Christmas Party business, we had the chance to see Kobe's incredible Luminarie. They say that this is the last year they'll be doing it ...although they say that every year!

kobe luminaria_1916

"Kobe Luminarie (神戸ルミナリエ, Kobe Luminarie?) is a light festival held in Kobe, Japan every December. It began in 1995 and commemorates the Great Hanshin earthquake of that year. They were donated by the Italian Government. The lights are kept up for about two weeks and only turned on for a few hours each evening. Each light is individually hand-painted. Major streets in the vicinity are closed to auto traffic during these hours to allow pedestrians to fill the streets and enjoy the lights."

At times it felt a bit like being on the train to work...

kobe luminaria_1974

kobe luminaria_1985

kobe luminaria_2009

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Monday, July 21, 2008

*Twinkle*s arrival and the first of two weddings

The drive to Heathrow airport never takes as long as I expect it to. I think of London as being a long way away, but it actually takes less than three hours to get there from Herefordshire, and what with the airport being located just off the M4 there's not much in the way of traffic to deal with.

Whilst I object to the expansion of UK airports, I couldn't help but be impressed by Heathrow's new terminal 5. It was only a one-minute walk from the car to the arrivals gate, and no chance of getting lost.

heathrow arrivals00222

I arrived at exactly the same time that *Twinkle*s flight touched down; the display told me that that the bags were arriving in the terminal within ten minutes, and 20 minutes after that Japanese businessmen, students and families started to emerge from behind the automatic doors. Any moment now, *Twinkle* would show up.

I must admit I was pretty excited ...excited and nervous. I sensed that *Twinkle* had changed quite a bit since I had last seen her, and consequently some aspects of our relationship were an unknown.

And then there she was.

It was a bit funny at first. I'm not sure how to describe it. A bit surreal. We weren't sure what to make of one another.

But that was before we spent no less than twenty minutes trying to find the car in the huge multi-storey car park. In my excitement I'd forgotten to make a note of where I'd parked, and not knowing my parents' registration number I couldn't use the Car Finder machine (the car park has thousands of cameras pointing at every single number plate). Thus, *Twinkle* and I has to visit every single level, before finally locating it on the 3rd.

That reassured *Twinkle* that I was as silly as ever, and it wasn't long after that that we got back in the groove.

It is soooo good to be with her again. These are really very happy days.

mischevous twinkle_8833

During our six months apart, our conversations were often restricted to 'issues' or 'problems'; with limited talk-time these would naturally take precedence over idol chit-chat and the sharing of niceties, consequently turning the relationship into something that revolved around serious and meaningful 'stuff'. Now back together, I'm surprised and delighted by how nice it is to just 'be' together, to share silly moments or our appreciation of a beautiful view, to make fun of one another, to smile, to be kind to one another, to comfort one another with a hug.

(there's the real physical stuff too, which I shan't bore you with. But I'm grinning as I type this!)

All of these things have been lacking since January, and our memories of them couldn't help but become clouded by the passage of time, the separation, and the dominance of seriousness. Rediscovering the sheer joy of just being in her presence, knowing that she is close by, is just great.

Bridesmaids at Catherine and Stewart's wedding


We've had a really fun 5 days together so far.

On Friday we attended Catherine and Stewart's wedding, Catherine being a dear friend whom I first met at the Waldorf School, many many years ago.

The venue was the beautiful Walcot Hall, a lovely stately home set in the gorgeous Shropshire countryside.

I was so nervous as Catherine came down the aisle - partly because I knew that in exactly a week from then it would be *Twinkle* doing the very same thing. All those people watching, such an important event, but then I saw her smiling and laughing as she kind of made fun of herself, and I relaxed. I need to remember this for next week I thought. Don't be too serious!

The civil ceremony was lovely, and had some good comical bits to help set everyone at ease. Catherine looked absolutely stunning, and what a bloomin' nice chap Stewart is.

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catherine stewart just married_8792

The reception was great too. Initially I felt a little out of place, but within an hour or so friendships were forming - and food was on the table (delicious).

At one point, *Twinkle* and I went for a dance in the pitch black garden - that was rather amusing, especially when it suddenly poured down with rain drenching us both!

It was pretty late when we left. Our accommodation for the night was a little two-man tent in a field at the bottom of the drive, and very comfy it was too. The perfect end to a perfect day.

joseph twinkle in their tent

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Day in snapshots

I've had this camera follow me around all day. It's been taking snapshots of my thinking. Kinda strange. I developed the film, here's what came out.

It's 5.45am. My phone alarm goes off. I think about whether I want to wake up - i think, "well, the interview isn't until 8am, I can sleep till 7am." I doze for another hour.

8am. Skype rings. It's the company in Tokyo for the job interview. I'm feeling pretty relaxed, but the voice... it's not the woman I was expecting. No, this is someone new. She's Japanese, has an American accent, but I get this idea she's been to Australia too. She's friendly and responds well to humour. This is going to be good.

20 minutes in. Things are going well, I'm enjoying talking to her. Then she asks me a question I'd not thought about; "What are the most important qualities for an employee of this company?". I feel that fear, and fall over over my words as I try to come up with something. I give an answer. "Is that all?" she asks. I grope about in the dark, and come up with something else. Something good. Crisis over, I'm back on track.

40 minutes is up. "Well, thank you, it's been real nice chatting" she says. "Likewise". I'm happy.

Next snapshot, I'm in the CILASS office at 9.20am. I'm happy to see Sabine, Pam and Nicola. "You're not in today!" I'm told. "No, you're right, I'm on a train to Bradford in 30 mins! A few minutes later the powerpoint is printed, and I run for the tram.

The journey to Bradford takes 90 minutes, but I don't notice it. First off, I read my newspaper. Nothing of interest apart from an article about the possibility of using the iPhone in education. I repackage the many sections of the paper and leave them on the seat opposite, hoping they will appeal to someone else later on - it's not fair that they have such a short life. Then I'm watching a DVD, Sliding Doors, a film I loved when I first saw it, but now am more inclined to agree with my friend who thinks it's pants.

Bradford. I've not been here before. I ask the girl in WHSMITHs where the uni is, she points, 'over there'.

Bradford Town Hall. Clearly modelled on Sheffield's Florence's Palazzo Vecchio (thanks to our Tokyo correspondent for that update)

Walking down the street in my patchwork jeans and Tilley Hat - I'm excited! I'm the new kid in town. Wow, so many chances to interact with all these people - I'm buzzing.

But three minutes later, I'm lost. I ask a scruffy old man, white hair, wonkey teeth, dirty green shirt, "Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the University please?" He doesn't know. To my surprise he then starts barking out at passers-by, "University? University anyone?" People ignore us, stare at us. I'm about to assure him that it's ok, when a couple in matching denim outfits stop. "University? Yeah, we're going that way! Come with us!"

15 minutes later I'm on the university campus. It's nice. Kind of out of place, surrounded by boarded-up shops and derelict buildings. I reach the library building, reception check my name off the list and lets me in.

I'm there for a workshop organised by the Yorkshire universities, the topic is Web 2.0 & Information Literacy - myself and a CILASS colleague are to give the student view.

But first we listen to a very funny guy talk about his thoughts on web 2.0 for 45 minutes. He's in his 50s, white hair, has long since dispensed with concerns over what other people think of him. I like him - his show seems to be 90% Flickr, photos representing ideas, with the odd image thrown in that had no connection to anything, but reminded him of his son on holiday. I smile.

Break for lunch. Sandwiches are OK. Vegetable Samosa's not bad either. Red grapes are my favourite. I make an attempt to connect with the lady who seems to be hosting it. She's cool. I like her name badge. They don't have name badges like those at Sheffield.

1.45pm and we're up! *Twinkle* flashes up as my desktop background, but she's masked by the opening slide. We've a lot to get through and have to rush it a bit, but it's fun. It reminds me of the last time I presented to a group of staff, the lack of reactions from 2/3 of the audience. They must have had to sit through hundreds of presentations, and there was no way they were going to feign enthusiasm just because the presenter had multicolour patchwork jeans on. But it's OK, a good third of them are engaging. They are the ones that know me, and the younger strangers.

Presentation successfully delivered, we pack up and head off. My post-presentation headache kicks in - always does. I didn't get that nervous about it all, but I guess the excitement of presenting to 25 librarians is too much for my head.

I joke with my colleague, "when I'm presenting to 10,000 people I'll have to look back on this and laugh!".

I've got time to visit the National Media Museum before heading back to Sheffield for the Japan soc BBQ. Just my luck - the U2 show at the IMAX finished the night before, and today it's nothing but overgrown dinosaurs. Oh, and two of the galleries are closed for installation works. Still, the rest of the place is open, and the staff are so enthusiastic & really keen to help - I feel excited.

I'm in the basement, watching 1970s Kodak commercials. I love them. Those revolutionary single-use flash bulbs that mean you can take photos INSIDE! Or how about the camera with the handle so you can hold it steady - meaning you can even get good shots on rainy days!

Minutes later - an encounter with a dalek...

I'm on the 4th floor now, in the BBC studio mock-up. I try my hand at delivering the weather forecast. The camera wants to chop my head off.

I then play the role of presenter of the BBC news - but the seat is too high and when I watch the playback on the big screen afterwards I can only see the bottom half of my face!

Through to the other half of the building, and there's a real glass-walled BBC radio studio in there - on air.

I move on up to the children's TV floor. OMG it's Zippy and George! The actual puppets used on Rainbow. And next to them the toys from Playschool! Wow, I haven't seen Humpty in years! It's quite an emotional reunion.

I sit in one of the TV booths and choose to watch Dangermouse. It only seems appropriate as I've come to Bradford on CILASS business and have had Danger Mouse as the folder icon for CILASS on my mac for months.

I'm getting tired. As I make my way back to the station, I wonder why I get so tired walking across cities some times. Well, it's been a long day I guess.

I'm back on the train. I'd decided to not check the platform and go on intuition. After 20 minutes travelling in the wrong direction I reluctantly decide to get off the Skipton Train at some pretend station, cross to the other platform and wait for the train that is actually going to Sheffield.

As I'm waiting I find my banana in the bottom of my bag. It's been squashed, but is still edible. I stuff it all in at once and then try and shield my face from the girl in the shelter. I wonder if she's afraid of me.

I'm listening to Murakami's Dance Dance Dance on my iPod all this time. I'm enjoying it. That was part of the reason why I didn't want to get off the train going to Skipton. I wanted to listen to my story.

The train terminates at Leeds and I need to change. As I wait for my (delayed) connection I get a call from my japan soc friend - Aren't you coming to the final BBQ? "I got on the wrong train" I tell her, feeling bad that I'm going to miss it. I should have been there, and I knew it.

Well, I'll email later and apologise. I feel pretty bad about it.

I'm now sitting inside a luggage rack on a jam-packed train to Sheffield. I'm trying not to lean on my rucksack' knowing that I could damage my laptop screen.

The guy sitting inside the luggage rack opposite me is another of these white-haired men in their 50s. We strike up a silent friendship, both sharing unusual seats. We joke with our eyes about the group of girls behaving outrageously between us.

A chap shouts down the carriage "Can't you move up?! There's people still trying to get on".
I admire him for speaking up, and wonder what it was that made him into the kind of person that could say that to a group of strangers on a train in such an assertive tone.

I understand when he gets off 2 stops later: he has a badge on a webbed string around his neck, it reads: "British Transport Police".

We arrive at Sheffield. i say goodbye to my luggage rack friend, and take the tram home.

I'm in bed, shattered. I don't want to do anything, but don't want to sleep. So, I watch a DVD - 'Stranger than Fiction'. It's ok. It entertains me. I like the love story, implausible though it is.

Film over, I think about the day just gone. It's been a good one. I enjoyed all these interactions, and being a stranger in a new town.

This life thing, it's kinda cool really. I like it.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Holiday Day 2: Up into the mountains

What a fantastic day it’s been. Joseph is a very happy boy.

It all started at 8am, when I was woken by Twinkle treading on my foot. Her mum’s apartment is Japanese you see, i.e., small, thus the three of us were squeezed into the single bedroom, with my feet by the cupboard with all the clothes in.

A quick breakfast, and then we were off, off on a voyage into what really can be called “countryside”, even by Western standards. In the past, when Japanese people have said to me, “yeah, my parent’s home is in the middle of the countryside, there’s nothing around for miles”, I’ve initially believed them, and then when finally visiting said family home, find it surrounded by houses, garages, convenience stores and vending machines. The thing that makes it “countryside” apparently is the fact that between every other building is a little field of cabbages dating back to the pre-war era. The tax on agricultural land is far lower than that on land occupied by an erection, thus many families have found it more feasible to simply keep on with the fruit and veg. Anyhow, off we went, heading towards the mini-mountains that surrounded the town on three sides… and then up, and up, and up.

This really was ‘countryside’. The well-surfaced main road became a dodgy half-tarmac half-concrete switchback track, penetrating deep into the wooded slopes. No vending machines up here. So it was, that after about half an hour, we arrived at Kinokuni, a boarding school modelled on A.S. Neill’s Summerhill in southern England.

At Kinokuni, the children learn through carrying out practical projects. Thus, today we saw children constructing a new hut type thing,

making recorders from plumber’s piping, cooking up some apple pies, finalising plans for a trip to Okinawa, building a mini-shrine (very impressive),

feeding the chickens, fixing motorbikes and cars

...and typing up reports on their recent month-long trip to another Summerhill-type sister school in Scotland. They hold a weekly meeting in which they all decide how the school will be run …and generally create the feeling of one big family. The fact that well over half of the 200+ students live on-site adds to this communal feeling. It reminded me of the Steiner school in many ways.

After lunch with the children, we descended the mountain and began our journey here, a traditional Japanese ryokan (the nearest English equivilant is B&B, although that term just doesn’t do it justice) located in a village that’s even more remote than Kinokuni. This little mountain village, situated at just over 800 metres above sea level, is, like yesterday’s Koyasan, a Unesco World Heritage site.

200 or so households make up Dorogawa (‘Cave River’). The nearest railway station is over an hour away by car, which made for an interesting journey here. Thing was, when we got to the station, we discovered that the next bus for Dorogawa wasn’t due to depart for an hour-and-a-half. It wasn’t exactly warm, and I didn’t really fancy sitting by the bus stop until my nose fell off; thus, we decided to try and hitch hike. Having walked down the main road for a mile or so, we finally found a suitable hitching point on the road to Tenkawa (‘Heaven’s River’). It must have been only about ten minutes before someone pulled over, an old granny who’d just picked up her granddaughter from the school opposite us. We told her where we were going – an hour up into the mountains, to which she replied that she was only going 2km down the road, but hey, what the hell, jump in the back and I’ll take you up the mountain. 30 minutes later there we were in Tengawa, only fifteen minutes by car from our final destination (and incidentally, the place that has the priveledge of hosting the region’s only set of traffic lights). Had we had to wait long for a lift I’m sure I would no longer be able to have children; the altitude we were now at sported a fashionably low temperature – it was FREEZING! Thankfully though, within minutes we were picked up by Yamada san, a resident of this wee little mountain enclave, who knew our hosts well – thus we arrived at the ryokan 90 minutes early, and without having to pay the extortionate bus fare.

Masugen Ryokan is a family-run affair, and has been providing travellers with a place to rest and recuperate for some 300 years. I must admit, I was pretty blown away by it upon entering.

We were greeted by the entire family at the door, and then shown to our grand room on the 2nd floor. Well, our grand TWO rooms to be precise, each of which is bigger than our whole apartment in Tokyo. We also have a little balcony type thing, where we can sit and sip green tea, whilst admiring the maple leaves on the mountain slope opposite.

Having put our bags down, Twinkle pointed to the wall on the opposite side of the street; there was a sign there that might interest me.

Ha! There was my name for all to see – welcoming me to the village! (Ok, so they called me Joseph Tim instead of Joseph Tame, but that's only because one character has been written slightly smaller than it should have been. Perhaps it was so they could fit all the characters in…) It turned out that ye ancienty building opposite was actually part of the ryokan, hosting more guest rooms and the onsen (natural hot springs). What started off good just got better when dinner was served – what a feast!

Post dinner it was time to warm up in the onsen. Off with the day clothes, on with the Yukata (light kimono) which surprisingly was almost long enough for me. On with our geta, and clip-clop-clippety clop across the road to soak. Being the only guests in the Ryokan, we decided that it would probably be ok for us to share a bath – as with most onsens these days, there are two sections divided by gender. There was the slight risk that the owner’s daughter would turn up, but what the hell… Hmm, that was a nice bath, another location to add to the list ☺

Despite the freezing temperatures, the futons look very snug. As is the custom, they were magically laid out for us when we were eating – we smiled when we saw that they had made a special effort to accommodate me, by laying out an additional futon (complete with sheets, blankets and cover) just for the benefit of my feet, which otherwise would have poked out of the end!

All in all, a fantastic day two of our Autumn holiday. This is what it’s all about!

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