August 29, 2009

The Anatomy of August: Part I

Summer in Japan means festivals, Obon holidays, swimming at the beach, watermelons, intense sunshine and heat, and sipping cold beer in frosty mugs while the cicadas are chirping noisily—all fantastic things. I am pretty much always in a great mood during this season: a walking, talking, and annoyingly cheerful Beach Boys song. So it’s not a startling revelation to state that I love summer, revel in it, can’t get enough of the sun and the warmth. August has passed incredibly quickly and I prefer to be outside rather than at the keyboard. Still, here are some of the reasons why summer is the greatest season:

Family Pools
The easiest way for the Rising Family to escape the heat is to head out to a community pool. These facilities usually feature a waterslide, a wading pool for the wee kiddies, and a long, narrow one-directional ‘lazy river’ pool with high pressure water jets to keep the water – and throngs of people – going round and round. During the school summer holidays from late July they are usually really crowded, even on weekdays. I’ve had a lot of time off work due to reduced working hours this year, so we have used that time to explore new recreation places. It’s easy and relatively cheap to spend a full day at these waterparks. During August we visited four of them in the city and surrounding region.

What’s summertime without some fiery streaks of light, tremendous booms, and colorful barrages of color that assault the eye? We went to see the Ujina fireworks (in the south end of Hiroshima city) at the end of July with some of my co-workers. Lady E. enjoyed the spectacle with her friend from pre-kindergarten class.

Naomi’s dad is a gentleman farmer, and as a result we are the grateful recipients of a steady supply of fresh vegetables and rice from the family farm. In August, this equates to a lot of truly delicious watermelons that are so big we have a hard time fitting them in our fridge. As you can see, Lady E. is big fan. Watermelon is our official Taste of Summer®.

Shimonoseki & Doigehama
Another rite of summer is a trip to the beach. As I have noted our other aquatic adventures in various posts in this blog, it’s no surprise to ya’ll that we went to the beach a few times. One of our favorite places is a place called Doigehama. It’s a small but clean beach about 150 kilometers west of Hiroshima, facing the Japan Sea. We spent one day there. Lady E seemed to enjoy herself in the water with us, flopping around with water wings on. Also, for the first time she took an interest in building something in the sand.

We also spent a day exploring Shimonoseki, a small city in Yamaguchi Prefecture not too far from Hiroshima. The Shimonoseki Kaikyo Yume Tower dominates the Shimonoseki skyline. It’s a nice weekend destination, and the fresh seafood at the open market is outstanding. See for more information if you’re inclined.


August 19, 2009

Election Kickoff

As a huge fan of democracy – but not eligible to vote here – I take a detached, apolitical joy in observing the Japanese democratic process in action. Yesterday was the “official” start to Japan’s House of Representatives election, slated for August 30th. That means the quasi-campaigning and posturing is over, and prospective legislators can legally give their campaign speeches in the most heavily trafficked public spaces. By law, political hopefuls running for the lower house have exactly fifteen days to campaign, so we are at the outset of this election amid the scorching summer heat and humidity.

Last night, TV programs were laser-focused on the election kickoff and each party’s platform, which I frankly found to be a little nebulous. Billboards and candidate posters immediately went up in my neighborhood with colorful, and occasionally amusing, headshots of the local candidates for the respective parties.
My favorite English translation of a political party’s name is the Happiness Realization Party. They will not win a seat, but would win my vote, just because it feels like there is Ken Kesey-like character running the show for them. Alas, there are no apparent Merry Pranksters in Japan.
Most pundits project that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will defeat the ruling coalition (Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito Party), ending the LDP’s nearly 55 years of mostly-uninterrupted control of government. For my fellow Canadians, imagine 55 years of Liberal governments and you can get a feel for the political climate. Uhh…"maybe we can."

Some of the lighter elements of Japanese elections include a few things that North Americans might not be familiar with, such as:
- The aforementioned candidate, standing on a corner in a predictable dark suit, with a silk sash hung over the shoulder emblazoned with his or her name, bowing and waving maniacally at drivers while simultaneously bellowing out his/her campaign messages. This can’t be fun in 90-degree heat.
- Impeccably clean vans filled with the candidate’s supporters, who wave at passers by with white-gloved hands. They cruise my neighborhood, blaring a canned greeting, the merits of the candidate and how hard they will work for the community, through huge loudspeakers . They screech the candidate’s name many, many times so you can’t forget it.
Interestingly, TV advertising, door-to-door canvassing and direct e-mailing to sway a person’s vote is not allowed. This is a nice element to offset the added noise pollution.

This entire exercise in public affairs coupled with glaring public disturbance is amazingly out of character for a society that favors privacy, self-restraint and decorum. I still am juggling the complex array of social norms that keep Japanese society functioning smoothly, but when it comes to election noise, there is no escaping the invasive public noise and the inevitable hot air. In the end, though, a few weeks of noise pollution is the price Japanese people, and those of us who live here, abide with to live in a free and democratic society. Plus, for me, it’s quite entertaining.