Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Abashiri Drift Ice (流氷, Ryūhyō)

Every winter, the Sea of Okhotsk is painted white because of the drift ice.  Hokkaido is the southernmost region in the northern hemisphere to experience this phenomenon. It's a testament to the coldness of the Siberian winters that the ocean essentially freezes over, and partially due to the freshwater that flows from the Russian and Chinese rivers into the ocean that lowers the salt water content enough to allow a layer of water to freeze.  

Here are a few pictures from the drift ice cruise my friends and I took this year in Abashiri.  The drift ice is totally hit or miss, and with the average temperatures rising global the seasons have become a bit shorter and more unpredictable.  However, this year the ice was fantastic and much more extensive than I remember from last year.  


Valentine's Day in Japan

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Valentine's Day.  It has little to do with the romance associated with the day, and more with the fact that my birthday is in August.  Those who also have summer birthdays can perhaps understand my feelings about my birthday.  When you're young, birthdays are your special day.  Summer birthday parties, especially those toward the end of summer, usually have a low record of attendance when you're an elementary school student because your friends are gone for sports tournaments or on vacation.   Birthdays that happen during the school year might include special perks in your elementary school class such as being line leader, getting to choose the story to read during reading time, being able to invite your entire class to your birthday party, or having a few moments of attention while you hand out cupcakes.  People with summer birthdays don't get that.  

However, most teachers during my elementary school days let children with summer birthdays celebrate their half birthday during the school year.  Being that my birthday is August 14th, my half birthday is February 14th - Valentine's Day.  I could never compete with the candy and cards that flowed into the school that day.  To have my real birthday fade into the background of summer vacation and then to also have my half birthday in the shadow of all the Valentine's Day festivities just wasn't fair.  Thus, from a young age, I always felt a bit jipped because of Valentine's Day. 

I'm not sure if the above explanation really has anything to do with Valentine's Day in Japan.  I think I just wanted a reason to finally explain why I never have really appreciated Valentine's Day.  Also, if at any point something I may write or say about Valentine's Day comes across as bitterness...please understand that it stems from unresolved childhood issues. 

Valentine's Day (バレンタインデ-barentain-dei) is a little different in Japan than in the States.  As with any other holiday or ceremony in Japan, there are very standard norms to be followed. The four important things you need to be aware of about Valentine's Day in Japan are:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bad English or Zen?

"It is closed if it is opened."

This is on the front door of my friend's apartment building in Sapporo.  At first, I laughed at the terrible Engrish and the humor from this sign really put me in a good mood.   But then, I realized that every time I saw this sign I wondered about the idea that something is closed if it is opened.  Is it possible for something to appear closed, but really be open, or to seem open when in fact it is closed? Could it be a Zen meditation?  Is this something that one should contemplate? What does the "it" refer to? Could it possibly refer to more than just the door and the landlord's desire to keep the cold winter air out of his building?  And why would the sign be in English when there are just two native English speakers out of dozens of tenets? 

The more I see this sign, the more I want it to have been written this way on purpose.  But of course, what one wants and what is reality often differ, and chances are good that this is indeed, disappointingly, just bad English.