Sunday, May 31, 2009

callus me fingers again

One night a few months ago, someone left this at the genkan* of my house.

An almost brand new Yamaha guitar complete with its soft bag, stand and even the original warranty card (which has since expired).

I insisted that I should not take it, but merely loan it since I have no musical instrument of my own here.

So to repay the giver's kindness, I decided I should pick up guitar again.

I don't remember all that Teacher Andy has taught me back in Exemius, but at least when I see him next I won't have to give him a sheepish grin and mumble something about forgetting all my chords.

* 玄関 【げんかん】 (n,adj-no) entranceway; entry hall;

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

mesmerised by kabuki

During Golden Week, my housemates and I visited the Kabuki theater in Ginza. Kabuki is one of the three Japanese theatrical performances, the other two being Bunraku and Noh.

The word kabuki (歌舞伎) consists of the 3 kanji characters which mean sing (歌), dance (舞) and skill (伎). It could also be translated as the technique or art of singing and dancing.

Since Kabuki is a traditional artform, and may be likened to the Chinese Opera performance, the language used is not that of our everyday modern lingo. When I watched the Bunraku puppet-theater performance in Osaka 2 summers ago, I didn't really catch much of what was uttered by the actors, but the performance itself was interesting.

The Ginza principal theater which was built in 1889 was scheduled for renovation, so there was a series of farewell performances (さよなら公演) from January this year till spring 2010. We bought tickets for the afternoon programme which stretched from 4:30pm till about 9:16pm.

Koi Minato Hakata No Hitofushi (恋湊博多諷)
Yudachi (夕立)
Kanda Bayashi (神田ばやし)
Oshi No Fusuma Koi No Mutsugoto (鴛鴦襖恋睦)

We rented the earphone guide which was definitely recommended since the comments are carefully timed to coincide with the action on stage. In addition to the plot, special aspects of the music, actors and properties of Kabuki are also explained.

Kabuki is played only by men. The female parts are played by the onnagata (女形), usually young male actors who have less masculine body features and higher-pitched voices. In one particular story which featured a geisha house, the adolescent actors played their female roles so well they could have been mistaken as grrls instead.

Every Kabuki actor has a unique house-name or yago (屋号), which are shared with others who come from the same acting house. During certain instances of the play when the actors hold a picturesque pose, expert audience would shout the name of the actor's yago to express their appreciation of the actor's achievement.

Kabuki is well-known for stylisation of its drama and elaborate make-up, therefore distinguishing one type of character from the rest. For example, white rice powder make-up denotes female and young characters, while exaggerated movement and make-up is associated with rough masculine characters. Red facial lines indicate passion, heroism and positive attributes whereas blue and black ones for negative traits such as jealousy and villainy.

I enjoyed in particular the lavish costumes and background sets which are considered the most extravagant in the world. In the last play, the elaborate costumes were made in such a way that when the couple transformed into spirits of birds, their kimonos and hairpieces metamorphosed to reveal wings and feathers. Even from where we sat, I could see that the materials used were luxurious indeed.

The use of the revolving stage, mawari butai (回り舞台) when changing scenes, stage traps, seri (迫り出し) to raise and lower actors to the stage and the hanamichi walkway (花道) which projects into the audience when making dramatic entrances and exits all make the Kabuki a highly cultured art form.

I thought the setup of the stage was rather elaborate considering the history of the Ginza theater. In the 1st play, the musicians were hidden by the "waves" as they created the effect of the raging sea, whereas in the last play, the singers and musicians were displayed in full view of the audience, plucking their shamisens (三味線) with the actors just a few feet in front of them.

Considering that Kabuki do not portray contemporary Japan and have gone through a difficult history; numerous fires and a brief ban after World War 2, this ancient dramatic art is still widely popular and retains a place of pride in the hearts of the Japanese people.

Ticket Prices for Kabuki-za :

1st Floor : Y18,000, Y16,000, Y12,000
2nd Floor : Y16,000, Y12,000
3rd Floor : Y4,200, Y2,500
*Single performance tickets are also available, ranging from Y600-1,100, with seats on 4th floor, for those who do not have the patience to endure all 5 hours of this enduring art form.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

my bedside flowers

In addition to the prickly trio and skinny mickey, I bagged myself a pot of plant of a different variety.

During Mothers' Day at ICA church, they were giving out these flowers to moms as an appreciation of their love and gesture of respect. The initial plan was to have afternoon tea after the morning service with the mothers. However, since they ran out of time, the flowers came with a sachet of tea bag.

At our GAP evening service, since the majority were college students and young working adults, there happened to have extra pots of flowers after the service. So the Pastor asked us if we would like to have one. She did say, "For all you mothers-to-be, please help yourself to the flowers". Mother-to-be or not, even Matthew went up to get himself one!

Now I could finally have some flowers of my own, I thought. I went to the shopping street near our house to get a proper pot and base since April told us that the flowers would need to be replanted in a bigger pot.

Even though the "balcony" outside my window is just a piece of railing affixed to the wall, the base managed to fit perfectly into one of the space between the steel rails. I managed to find a spot where it seemed the most sturdy; I wouldn't want the wind to blow away the flowers just because it was not on solid ground.

My bed is on the same level as the flower base, so when I slide open the window just beside the bed, I get to see the lovely flowers. I have been doing that every morning when I wake up, and having such a view of fresh flowers to greet me at the beginning of the day is just bliss.

And yes, that's the air-conditioning unit just beside the flowers, and it's exactly that which I see when I opened my window before.

Flowers (don't know the name) = Gift
Flower Pot = JPY99 + tax
Flower Base = JPY99 + tax
Waking up to fresh flowers in the morning = Priceless

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

miki maus in the haus

Mickey Mouse #1

Got this cute li'l cactus for my birthday. So cute in its packaging that I left it like that for weeks (^.~) It was supposed to be rabbit-shaped but the first thought that came to mind was mickey mouse. Skinny mickey, that is.

Finally, when I decided that it's been kept long enough in the box that I took it out for some watering.

At first I wondered if it was even real because when I shook removed it out from the original wrapping, the granules in the pot did not move. So I took the plant out and turned it upside down. The granules or some special soil were still intact, leaving me wondering what was beneath that top layer.

Well, I guess the plant itself must be real since the little babies starting growing on top of its ears. Now skinny mickey share the same space and sunlight as my 3 other cacti.

Mickey Mouse #2

My baker housemate loves to bake. Even though we don't have a proper baking oven, she has still managed to make do somehow to produce some very edible yummies. Her first attempt at cheesecake did not turn out too well because the oven was too small and the filling rose up to the ceiling of the oven.

Her 2nd attempt came out nicely even though it looked burnt on the top. The inside was very moist and soft though.

The extras which were filled into aluminum bake cups, turned out to be dryer instead. But I kinda liked this more, since it had a rather crisp crust and the right texture.

I don't mind being her guinea pig in her attempt to practice and perfect more of her baking recipes. Who knows, I might be inspired to pick up the whisk and spatula myself.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

sound so mad now

I knew my Japanese was improving; I was chatting in Japanese, texting in Japanese, putting up custom statuses on Facebook and MSN in Japanese and sometimes thinking in Japanese too.

Since Sam was very proficient in the language, I usually message him in Japanese. As he was one of the first Malaysians I met when I came to Tokyo, and one of the few who took the effort to console me when my granma passed away, he was naturally concerned about my current status.

The other day I happened to use the computer downstairs while cooking. In between idle time, I decided to log in to MSN and saw that he happened to be online too. Not wanting to change the default settings, I decided to just type in English this time.

Sam : wah... finally see u speak in english... how r u?

me : coz not my pc. malas wanna change languae

Sam : haha so... wazzup

me : you mesg me first.. i shud ask u

Sam : just to say hi

me : hehe

Sam : so... hows the food

me : hehe cooking with my housemates. so its kinda fun. and i end up eating a lot haha

Sam : no wonder... anw, good life?

me : so far so good

Sam : good.... glad to hear

me : enjoyig spring weather

Sam : u know... maybe is my japanese not that good. the way u tell me in japanese and the way u tell me in english. i felt so different. u sound so mad in japanese. but in english... it sounds so much like u

me : sound so mad??? really arh hahahaha

Sam : so angry

me : zen zen la (translated : not at all)

Sam : haha maybe i translated wrongly

me : or i need to soften my japanese... wat did i say to give you that impression la

Sam : aha.. everything... from start

me : like what

Sam : i don know. the meaning u try to express thru japanese... hard to tell u. from start... i already like hearing complains... haha japanese should not be use like english... for gals... should use it more softly... use words softly like だよ、おねがいします、かもしれない、のかい、 i don know. try to make ur japanese sounds more softer... don make it like a guy speaking type... eventhough in english it can.. but japanese express it like angry for gals...

me : hahahh i have been watching gokusen recntly. and learning yakuza language

Sam : no wonder eesh.... sounds really rough.... for a gal, as if u r scolding or angry... or just being a man....

me : HAHAHAHAHAHA zen zen la

Yes, like I said, I have improved quite a bit in my Japanese. What I conveniently forgot didn't realise is I've been learning all the masculine speech from that addictive Yakuza drama.

The traditional male-chauvinist society of Japan is such that the women are supposed to conform to certain societal etiquette and this includes the speech pattern too. Words such as "I" and "you" are different for male and female. In addition, sentence ending patterns differ between both gender as well.

Not only is the Japanese language highly contextualised, I have to make sure I sound feminine enough by using the right gender word patterns!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

happy belated gk

dear ghost_kwai,

remember i told you that i found someone who reminded me very much of you?

it dawned upon me one day when i thought of what to do for your birthday. :)

so anyways, you would have seen her pic on my blog before. but let me elaborate on the similarities that both of you share:

1) she's doing karate at her uni. i remembered you were very disciplined in it back in uni too! that makes both of you strong with your arms.

2) i've never seen her in skirts and grrly stuff. you were most comfortable in t-shirt and jeans too, even now!

3) she's the eldest with 2 other siblings. you've always been called our tai kar chieh, and of course eldest in your family too. so having you around felt like having a big sister in the house.

4) in that sense, you were both also very reliable and dependable.

5) she wears glasses. so do you. i guess both of you are quite the bookworms eh?

6) i don't know why, but i have this image of you with a fiction novel in your hand, lying on that mattress in your room in 7d4 on a balmy afternoon. she buys books that are worth investing in, and have her own cupboard of books in the room.

7) she used to play so much sports back in uni that she played more than she studied. you've been my adventure partner back then, and always up for anything sporty and outdoor-ish. remember our rollerblading rendezvous through the lecture halls? :D

8) she's chinese-ed. you were the only chinese-ed housemate and the only person i could practice speaking mandarin with, even if mine was so broken no one would believe i'm supposed to be chinese.

9) and yes, she's my current housemate. and you've been mine for almost a year ya.

10) you guys may also be alike in your personalities and other interests too!


p.s. : this post was meant to be for your birthday, sorry it's a bit late ne. m(_ _)m

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Of all the earthly things God gives,
There’s one above all others:
It is the precious, priceless gift
Of loving Christian mothers. —Anon.








Friday, May 08, 2009

芝桜の丘 pink moss knoll

There's always something new, something fresh sprouting up somewhere. Last month was hanami one after another. The sakura fever is a deadly one, striking its victims once a year and leaves an addictive itch. Once struck, the victim will try to go for as many hanami as possible to capture the best flowers in the best parks. Once gone, the victim will never be able to see the cherry blossoms anymore, for the flowers bloom for only a short while.

When the fever subsides, so does the commotion and hype at the countless hanami viewing spots all over the country. As the flowers fly away blown by the wind, green buds appear and leaves burst forth from where the flowers once were, making everything seem alive again.

Without the cherry blossoms hogging the limelight, other spring flowers have a chance to show off their brilliant colours. They are mainly found on the ground, amongst shoots of leaves and hidden among foliage. Spring is just too good a season to stay indoors.

Just when we thought there were no more sakura's to be seen, we found another type called the shibazakura (芝桜), which translates to pink moss.

Even though the kanji consists of the word sakura, and the flowers themselves are of the pinkish and purple variety too, they look more delicate than those that grow on trees.

Date : 2 May 2009
Time : 12 noon~
Daytime temperature : 22-30 degrees Celcius
Location : Chichibu 秩父市・羊山公園

I was tempted to skip this one since I almost had an overdose of sakura flowers from last month, more so when I found out that it was going to take 2 hours' of train ride. But I had told myself, my job now was to enjoy the spring weather as much as I can, and if it was something unique and worth my time and effort, then it's good for memories too.

From what was supposed to be only 5 of us, the group swelled up to 17 students (yes, I'm an honourary affiliate of Waseda!) from various universities in Tokyo. The weather was unusually hot, almost felt like summer. Speaking of weather, it sometimes seem as if winter skipped spring and went ahead to summer. Some of us who spent more time admiring the purple lawn got slightly burnt.

Not sure whether it was because we arrived slightly towards the end of the shibazakura season, but we were rather disappointed to find that the pink moss did not look like how it was supposed to. There were some patches which showed grass instead of flowers. And it was krazy packed, everyone was everywhere.

Even Miss Gothic Lolita came and sat under the blazing afternoon sun to enjoy the shibazakura too.


Monday, May 04, 2009

waseda big bears vs keio unicorns

My latest housemates are 2 Malaysian grrls studying in Waseda University. They've been living here since February, and hanging out with them and their friends made me feel quite like a student again. In fact, with my extended-leave-status, I'm living the student life, whatwith all the gatherings, cooking sessions, events and seemingly arcadian existence that I sometimes feel quite guilty about!

Anyways, they have christened me as a Waseda honorary affiliate and extended an invitation to an American Football friendly between their university and Keio University. This was going to be rather exciting since I have never been to a football match ever in my life, whatmore any sports event in Japan.

Nevermind that I was never into football to begin with, but sitting under the glare of the mid-day sun cheering for a university that was not even my alma mater added to the mystery of me ending up at Komazawa Olympic Park for the 57th Annual Classic Match.

The weather all week has been bright and sunny, making it perfect for outings. Knowing how deceptive spring weather can be, we somehow forgot to slap on extra sunblock and had to shield ourselves with our coats and jackets from the afternoon heat.

The Keio Unicorns were no match against the Waseda Big Bears. Even into the 2nd quarter, the Bears were leading by a comfortable margin of 17-3. The cheerleaders from the opposing team who came out in full force to support the Unicorns did little to boost the score.

In the remaining 2 quarters, Waseda continued on their winning streak and gained 30 more points to be the winner in this match. Big Bears thrashed the Unicorns 47-3.

After the game, all the players from both teams lined up at each side of the stadium facing each other. 4 representatives from each team walked up to the opposing side to bow to their opponents in a sign of mutual respect and sportsmanship. Then each team turned to face their spectators and bowed to them.

School anthems from both sides were played as part of the prize-giving ceremony. When Waseda's school song was being played, spectators from our side of the stadium stood up and followed the hand movements as indicated by the conductor standing just below us. How patriotic. I don't think MMU and IUJ ever had school songs!

When all the rituals of a well-played game had ended, the guys from the Big Bears converged and gave out a rousing cheer for the spectators who had come out to support them. Then they grabbed their coach and threw him into the air as they patted each others' back for an almost-effortless win.

I guess football can be rather interesting.