Liou's quiet little life...or is it?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tragedy on the playing field

Just a quick note, nothing I want to linger too long on. Yesterday I have been to Roppongi (one of the night districts of Tokyo, famous for foreigners) to see the match between the Netherlands and Portugal. At 4.00 am on Sunday night, or more correctly Monday morning, mind you!

The obvious question I often get during European cups, and furthermore complicated during World tournaments concerns which team I support. Now, most of the Earth's population will have an easy choice - their maternal country and place of residence -, for me slightly less. Especially when the three countries I consider as having influenced me through my parents and location are all participating. The matter is less trivial than it seems, as people expect you to be loyal to one country. Needless to say, I am not the nationalist type. At least that's what I thought. So why do I end up watching a Dutch football game at an insane time knowing I will not be able to get any sleep before work?

Apparently, I am more attached to this country I believed, although I am not particularly looking forward to returning there. Except to see my friends. And eat cheese and smoked herring. And be able to have more time of my own to spend. By traveling through nearby European countries.

Hmmm...guess all places have their charm and downside.

PS. No regret of watching the match, even though it turned out to be memorable for the wrong reasons...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hakone


Last weekend I went to visit Tadahiro-san, a traveler with whom I shared the cabin last November in the boat from Vladivostok to Japan. He lives close to where I work, about 1 hour by train, so I finally managed to pay him a visit. We first went to Hakone, one of the three most popular weekend trips from Tokyo, besides Kamakura (pittoresque city with lots of temple) and Nikko (a lavish temple/mausoleum). Its main attraction is the fact that it is a active volcanous area. No eruptions though, but loads of warm water springs and sulphuric gasses coming out of the ground.
Hakone also offers a splendid view on neighbouring Fuji-san, at least when you are lucky and the sky is not too cloudy. After this we went to the local museum, with a great collection of Japanese craft products, such as lacquerware (my favourite), bird cages, old man-carried vehicles and swords. Tadahiro-san had a nice surprise though, which was a samurai armour and helmet to wear! Especially the latter was much heavier than I would have thought! A nice photo opportunity of course.

We were quite lucky to have fairly nice weather on Saturday as Sunday was covered with rain. But this was no problem as we stayed in his house and chatted over various matters. My stay ended with a visit to the local onsen (warm water spring), while contempling the landscape, reminiscent of the Meditteranean! This is due to the fact that there are a lot of orange trees and that the mountainy cliffs dive quickly into the water.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Temple carrying and salt throwing


Saturday two weeks ago I experienced some traditional Japanese festivities and sports. With some of my colleagues I went to Asakusa, the most famous, touristic temple of Tokyo in a popular area. That weekend it hosted the Sanja Matsuri (festival of the tree gods), where most of the inhabitants of each small neighbourhood of Asakusa carry around a miniature temple. They go through the whole area and get a blessing at Asakusa's main temple.


The event was especially nice since it showed a more popular side of Japanese culture, and especially of Tokyo, shitamachi. This means literally downtown, and refers to the time where the rich people would live higher up in the hills, and the popular class in the lower areas in cramped neighbourhoods, which would regularly take fire. Although this distinction has been disappearing, you can get an idea of the shitamachi atmosphere during the Sanja festival for example. Everybody walks in short festival gowns, and goes about drinking beer and eating such things as roasted meat and fish.


The more 'popular' side was even more clear, when we saw a group of fully tattooed men going around with a temple of their own. They were actually the only one to stand on the temple, in a an act that could be interpreted both as ostentatious and profane. From the characters on their gown, it was clear they were part of a yakuza-clan. A very rare sighting, as the yakuza is known for being as discrete as possible.

After this, we went to the day before the final of a sumo tournament. As we were 20 (!), it was difficult to get hold of tickets, and we were seated very much to the back. But it was nice getting a feeling of the game anyway. The most surreal thing was the shinto-like roof hanging in the middle of the hall, which reminded me somehow of a Magritte painting. Sumo matches are a little bit difficult to watch, as the sumotori first spend a lot of time throwing salt in the arena, looking at each other, deciding to throw salt again, etc. It's only after three or four minutes that they really start the fight, and usually it's finished within 10 or 20 seconds. Quite a build-up for a very short interval of action. But of course, it was still impressive.