Valentine’s Politics and Detachable Limbs (Another Miscellany)

It’s rare for me, but I’m struggling to find something to say. Usually there’s too much, to the extent that I’m forced to self-edit. I’ve been working a lot the last couple of weeks, and I haven’t had much money, and it’s still cold here, so life’s been on the quiet side. I’ve been trying to promote the blog on Instagram and via a couple of internet forums, but without much success.

But there’s another, more insidious factor in my writer’s block. The glass half-full approach would be to say that I’m feeling more at home here in Hiroshima, which is great. But the sadder side of this new reality is, after a while, the everyday becomes… well, unremarkable. Literally unremarkable, in that I can’t think what to say about it. I guess this is an inevitable part of living abroad: the price of comfort is the loss of enchantment.

To cut a long story short, I’m still going to write the blog, but I’m not going to commit myself to weekly updates anymore. I don’t believe in writing for the sake of writing. So I’ll write when I have something to say, and we’ll see how often that turns out to be. For now, here’s a miscellany of jumbled half-thoughts from my jumbled half-month.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

wagashi

Giri Choco
Apparently Japanese women are in revolt. Although presents and dates with your partner are the norm just like elsewhere, it’s also customary for women in Japan to buy the charmingly nicknamed giri choco (obligation chocolates) for their male coworkers, while students buy chocolates for their teachers and classmates. The whole thing was dreamed up by some sulphur-shrouded ad exec in 1958.

Men are supposed to reciprocate a month later, on White Day (March 14th), but sometimes they… forget. The whole thing is getting pretty unpopular, because female coworkers already often earn less than their male colleagues, and are becoming more aware of their power in a shrinking workforce. This year, the majority of women didn’t buy them. Anyway, I condemn the patriarchy and all, but I’m also really bad at saying no to chocolate. So I had to accept some small presents from my students. Sorry, Emmeline Pankhurst. I’ll be good on White Day.

daruma.jpgDon’t Jump, Daruma!
Along with some sweets, one thoughtful student brought me back a daruma from a local festival. It’s a small, plump red doll, which is supposed to represent the Daruma-daishi, an ancient (5th/6th Century) Buddhist monk who attained enlightenment. The doll has blank, white eyes- the idea is that you colour in one eye to make a wish, and colour in the second when your goal is attained. Here’s mine, perched on the balcony.

The dolls bring you focus and good luck in your endeavours, and this is one explanation for their spherical, limbless shape. They’re supposed to be difficult to push over. However, their shape has another, bizarre story behind it. According to folklore, the Daruma-daishi sat motionless in meditation for so long that his arms and legs wasted away to nothing and finally fell off! An unlikely yarn, but focus can be a powerful force. Social media gets blamed for a lot of things, but I wonder how many enlightenments it’s preventing?

Lost in Translation
Two steps forward, one step back doesn’t cut it. Every time I think I’m making big progress with Japanese, there’s a shock to the system. The other day I was making relatively comfortable small talk with a taxi driver, and understanding much of what he was saying to me, and I was proud of myself. Today, I went to Saeki-ku ward office to placate the pen-pushers, and… not so much. It just went from bad to worse, as I got flustered and started forgetting words. Turns out I can get the gist of some general conversations quite well, but specific instructions are still a struggle. Oh well… 頑張る.

Anyway, I’m off to Izumo and Matsue next week. ‘Til then, I’ll leave you with some pictures of Shukkeien (Hiroshima’s famous garden) in winter.

 

Peace out, y’all.
From your correspondent in Hiroshima

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