Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 12.00 pm JST

sotd: 柴崎コウ, actuality
cotd: TU31 Nissan Presage 250 Highway Star J

In English, there is no succinct way to explain the concept expressed by the 4-character kanji phrase 年末年始. This is not to say that I or others do not understand what it means. Upon sight alone, the meaning is obvious. With only the slightest knowledge of kanji, we can see that it means year-end-year-begin, and if you can read them, you will see that this phrase says ねんまつねんし (nen matsu nen shi). When, exactly, it begins and when, exactly, it ends is not clearly defined, but to render it in English, we must say “the end of the year and the beginning of the year.” Two different years, of course, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year. In English, 11 words (13 in my additional explanation). In Japanese, 4 characters, and 2 of them are the same character. This conciseness, I believe, is symbolic of the importance that the Japanese attach to the coming and beginning of a new year.

The beginning period of a new year is full of 新年の挨拶 (new year’s greetings), 年賀状 (new year’s cards), 初詣 (new year’s prayers, lit. first prayer), 初夢 (new year’s dreams, lit. first dream), 初日 (first sunrise), etc. etc.

For Kristine and me, there was somewhere between little to none of that. -_-‘ Having been exhausted physically and financially from the Tokyo and Kansai components of our winter vacation, we spent the last hours of December 31, and then January 1, 2, and 3 (the 4th brought the resumption of work) in almost complete rest.

BUT, there were high points too. December 31, the last day of the year, meant the live broadcast of the NHK紅白歌合戦 (the Red and White Song Contest, or more simply, Kohaku). Yes, LIVE on NHK, as in, not a couple days delayed on KIKU-TV. It was amazing. To prepare, we gathered up food and drink from the Miki Co-op, including a whole party platter, came home, warmed up food, set up shop, and Kohaku’d the night away. Granted, we took bathroom breaks and got food and did other such things during the enka numbers, but all in all it was an enjoyable show.

On New Year’s Day, we mostly stayed in, relaxed, made curry for dinner (初カレー?), and watched more new year television.

Fast forward to the 4th, when it was finally time for me to return to Tamba, and indeed, to work. It was almost a disappointment. I think the vice principal, Taniguchi sensei, and myself were the only individuals present. Everyone else probably took holidays to extend their New Year’s vacations, I imagine. At any rate, it was pretty quiet in the 職員室. The second day back, Friday the 5th, marked a marginal increase in the amount of teachers present, and it also meant that I would be climbing a mountain. No, really. With no warning whatsoever, the vice principal told me that we would be going up 城山 (Shiroyama, home to the the ruins of the old Kuroi Castle 黒井城 which used to exist in this area). And we did, me and him plus Ido sensei and three of the 上陸 (track and field) girls. Once to the top (I’ll skip over the unbearable agony that came in between), I had fairly impressive views of the valley in which my sleepy town lies. Once down, I went to lunch with some fellow teachers and then left early to head to Miki. Pretty much as soon as Kristine was finished with work, we hopped on the train and rode into Sannomiya, where after some confusion and a few calls, we met up with Azumi, one of my comrades from the Fall 2005 CET Beijing Language Program. Because, you know, I like reunions. We talked over dinner at the Thai restaurant until we had to go back to the station so that she could go home, and then afterwards Kristine and I went to Tokyu Hands. For what, I don’t remember. Then we went home.

After a pretty quiet weekend at home, on Monday the 8th (成年の日, Coming of Age Ceremony Day–yay random holidays), Kristine and I did the first of what I hope to be many ドライブ trips. Essentially a katakana-ized version of the English word “drive,” a ドライブ can cover any reasonable distance and amount of time and would be roughly equivalent to what we call a road trip. For this one we stayed reasonably close, using a guidebook I had picked up earlier from Kristine’s local bookstore. This was to be our day to explore 北播磨 (Kita-Harima, the part of Hyogo north of Kobe and south of Tamba, which includes Miki). Most of what we saw was in Ono City (兵庫県小野市), which borders Miki to the north. Our first stop came at the site of castle ruins, Kanatsurube Castle, a smallish minor(?) castle in the middle of Ono. After some wandering around and lots of pictures of Ono, which unremarkably looks the same as every part of this area, we moved to the Jodoji Temple, which is not only a national treasure on its own, but also contains a mini-henro. The 遍路 (henro) is a very traditional Buddhist pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku which takes the pilgrim through 88 temples after the pattern of Kobo Daishi, who first brought the Shingon sect of Buddhism to Japan (specifically, Mount Koya in Wakayama) from China. I know personally two people who have completed the pilgrimage, both on foot, no less. You can imagine my surprise when I searched for henro via Google and found this interesting article. Yeah, I know him! And chances are, some of you do too! The other one posted his results here. Anyway, all said and done we took about half an hour to complete the mini course and then were off for lunch.

Located at one of the intersections along Route 175, I had always seen そろばん亭 (Soroban-Tei, soroban = abacus), but had never ventured inside, not knowing whether it was a restaurant or a meeting hall of some kind. But this was to be its day. And a good thing, for it turned out to be a katsu restaurant, and man was I in the mood for some good katsu. After this, we took a romp through the ひまわりの丘公園 (Himawari no Oka Park), but soon gave up on account of the fierce winds and mostly child-age population. After this we stopped at the Ono Public Library and browsed around for a couple hours, eventually emerging into the dusk of that chilly January day and heading back towards Miki. Yay ドライブ. An auspicious start to what I hope becomes much in the way of touring around Japan.

And then the third semester began at school. (Third Semester? What Strange Place is this?)