Wednesday, February 9, 2011

kenkoku kinenbi--Japan's National Foundation Day

I asked some of my colleagues at lunch the other day what is the nature of the holiday coming up on Friday; I knew it was a national holiday, something like a founding of the nation. Someone said, "It's like independence day" to which I asked "Independence from whom? Japan has never been part of another country." I was careful not to say had never been occupied, because Japan was occupied by the U.S. after WWII. Nevertheless, someone answered "except America."

I'd been told before [actually by my friend Jim H., who has spent a lot of time in Japan], not to ask Japanese about their traditions, etc., because they don't tend to know or pay attention [such as differences between Buddhist and Shinto traditions]... so I went to, a great resource [from which I also just learned some chopsticks etiquette I should have already learned but haven't -- because chopsticks are used in some funeral rites] [and I also learned that women give chocolate to men on 14 February, good thing I looked!]

It turns out the foundation for Japan's National Foundation Day lies deep in the past:


February 11 is Japan’s National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinenbi):
According to the earliest Japanese history records, on this day in the year 660 BC the first Japanese emperor was crowned.

From the same website: According to mythology, Japan's first Emperor Jimmu, a descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, was enthroned in the year 660 BC. While the myths are not considered historically accurate, it is a commonly accepted fact that emperors have reigned over Japan for more than 1500 years, and that they have all descended from the same imperial family.

History of Early Japan (until AD 710)

During the Jomon Period (13000 BC to 300 BC), the inhabitants of the Japanese islands were gatherers, fishers and hunters. Jomon is the name of the era's pottery.[note from Jody -- the origin of Foundation Day falls within the end of this period]

During the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD), the rice culture was imported into Japan around 100 BC. With the introduction of agriculture, social classes started to evolve, and parts of the country began to unite under powerful land owners. Chinese travellers during the Han and Wei dynasties reported that a queen called Himiko (or Pimiku) reigned over Japan at that time. The Yayoi period brought also the introduction of iron and other modern ideas from Korea into Japan. Again, its pottery gave the period its name.

By the beginning of the Kofun Period (AD 300 - 538), a center of power had developed in the fertile Kinai plain, and by about 400 AD the country was united as Yamato Japan with its political center in and around the province of Yamato (about today's Nara Prefecture). The period's name comes from the large tombs (kofun) that were built for the political leaders of that era. Yamato Japan extended from Kyushu to the Kinai plain, but did not yet include the Kanto, Tohoku and Hokkaido.

The emperor was ruler of Yamato Japan and resided in a capital that was moved frequently from one city to another. However, the Soga clan soon took over the actual political power, resulting in the fact that most of the emperors only acted as the symbol of the state and performed Shinto rituals.

Due to friendly relations to the kingdom of Kudara (or Paikche) on the Korean peninsula, the influence from the mainland increased strongly. Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the year 538 or 552 and was promoted by the ruling class. Prince Shotoku is said to have played an especially important role in promoting Chinese ideas. He also wrote the Constitution of Seventeen Articles about moral and political principles. Also the theories of Confucianism and Taoism, as well as the Chinese writing system were introduced to Japan during the Yamato period.

In 645, Nakatomi no Kamatari started the era of the Fujiwara clan that was to last until the rise of the military class (samurai) in the 11th century. In the same year, the Taika reforms were realized: A new government and administrative system was established after the Chinese model. All land was bought by the state and redistributed equally among the farmers in a large land reform in order to introduce the new tax system that was also adopted from China.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Onsen [hot spring] in winter

Yesterday, Sunday, I was invited to visit the Jozankei hot springs with Amanda, an English teacher in Sapporo whom I met via TripAdvisor online –not because I needed an English teacher, but because I had asked for advice on shopping and skiing when I first arrived in Sapporo. Amanda has lived in Sapporo now for about 15 years; she hails from London. She met me at Minami Hiragishi subway stop, near her home, and drove us to Jozankei, southeast of town. She had picked a hot spring “spa” that was more out toward the edge of the large complex at Jozankei (with many hotels), and one that had a good curry kitchen. Curry is popular in Japan, and this kitchen had Indian chefs and an oven for naan.

The word for hot springs/baths in Japanese is “onsen.” Of course, hot springs are abundant in Japan (as in Kamchatka), and made most famous by the “snow monkey” or Japanese macaque. There are no snow monkeys on Hokkaido (we have brown bears, instead), but Macaca fuscata (Nihonzaru) are the most northern-living primate outside of humans, with their range extending to northern Honshu. They wash their food, make snowballs, and like to take hot baths together.

I had been before to onsen associated with hotels, but never to one outdoors. I’d been to quite a few outdoors, though, on Kamchatka in past years—from developed to out in the wild-- and the basics are the same, though the ones at Paratunka near Petropavlovsk didn’t have beer ads starring Ichiro…

I didn’t take many pictures because bathing is in the nude (and steamy, of course). Bathing was co-ed until Americans pretty much put a stop to the practice during their occupation after WWII.

So we entered the complex and immediately removed our shoes. The floors are clean and dry, so we didn’t need slippers, just socks till we entered the inner bath complex. We paid 1000 yen each (about $12 right now), and I bought a little towel for 210 yen --Amanda had told me to bring a towel, and I brought a larger one, but it’s customary also to have a small one with you as you bathe (but keep it on your head or otherwise out of the common bath).

We entered the women’s half of the baths, picked up baskets and stripped down amongst numbers of Japanese women of different shapes and sizes, but mostly more diminutive than we. The next step is to wash – you don’t wash in the hot baths, you wash first at a sitting shower/bath so that you come clean into the common bath. They provide shampoo and body soap, as well as warm water, of course.

Then we entered an inner bath – it was rectangular, with steps so that you could sit shallow or deep. It was hot. The water poured out over the edge and was depositing minerals along the sides. After we soaked there awhile, chatting and warming up, we went outside to the outer pool, with rocky edges, some rocks and ledges in the center, and surrounded by step, snowy slopes. Beautiful. There were plenty of shelves and crannies to sit on/in, and several clusters of women soaking and chatting. We could hear but not see the men on the other side of the building. One woman came out of the pool on the edge and started to make a snowball. It turned into a miniature snowman. I didn’t see evidence that anyone had rolled in the snow, though, and I didn’t try. The water was quite warm, but you could sit high or low to maintain comfort, and we spent quite awhile there. But we were timeless, and finally our hunger and the smell of curry drew us back in.

Amanda is fluent in Japanese, but for the likes of me they had pictures of the food offerings so I could have managed. I ordered a vegetable curry, Amanda a chicken curry, plus a blueberry naan, and I wanted rice --we didn’t quite realize that along with each of our orders also came a huge naan! Plus I ordered a draft beer, and Amanda, who was driving, an alcohol-free beer. It seemed like a lot of food when it came out, but we polished it all off, sitting with a lovely view of the snow-covered hillside, the mineral-rich hot water flowing down through and leaving red and yellow stains. That’s the one view I took from inside.

Our lunch was leisurely, and then Amanda took a different route back, through some of the local orchards. She dropped me at the same subway stop, and as I rode north, I debated whether to stop in the center of town on my way home and 1) buy decaf because it’s hard to find, and I was out (I mix half and half so I can have strong flavor without heart palpitations), and 2) check out the snow sculptures. I did decide to get out at Odori Park, and that’s another blog on the Snow Festival.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Girls be Ambitious!

This morning as I came out of my flat onto the newly shoveled snow, another “foreign scholar” emerged from her door, speaking Japanese quite easily with the snow shoveler. I passed and said “good morning” (she was not Japanese), and we gathered at the stoplight. I asked her if she spoke English, and she said yes, then we conversed all the way to her department, Civil Engineering, quite close to my building, Science 4. Lots of fresh snow this morning.

Catia is from Brasil, she is an urban planning/transportation engineer. She did her doctorate here at Hokkaido University, then spent some time in the UK working for a private company, and now has been hired back here as an Assistant Professor. She said she is part of the hiring effort to bring more women into the science and engineering faculty, and thus to encourage more Japanese women to pursue degrees in these fields. Hence also the “Girls be Ambitious” brochure I was pleased to find the other day, written to encourage young women into the engineering fields at Hokkaido U.

Because Catia mentioned she is now working on the issue of bicycle transportation in Japan, in relation to car traffic, I had lots of questions about the rules, etc., here where bicyclists seem to own the sidewalks, and more rarely ride on the road. Actually, Catia would rather be working on other aspects of urban planning, but this bicycle project has been currently assigned to her. We talked quite a bit about the differences between bicycle use here, in the UK, and in the US [I’ll have to ask about Brasil sometime!].

Time flew by, and we parted with at least first names and the numbers of our respective dwellings. She is married, she says, to a Jordanian, and she invited me to stop by, and suggested we share dinner some time. That was nice!

The other day I went to a series of presentations by graduate students, post-docs and visitors to this group (Volcanology and Seismology, the former being geophysical aspects of volcanology). The talks were in Japanese, of course, but I could read many figures and follow some parts of talks, especially ones with diagrams and graphs, etc. GPS measuring of volcanic inflation, for example; I took a few notes to keep myself focused. The easiest to understand was by my host Tanioka’s student Ioki, who is modeling the 1958 south Kurils earthquake and tsunami. She also was the only other female in the room. There are “only” 13 listed faculty members in this group, and they are all men. The other graduate students and post-docs in the room were also men.

It’s not so unusual in my full-career experience to be so out-numbered, though nowadays, for example, in a session at UW including volcanology and seismology (and tsunami studies), there would be lots of women. Japan has some catching-up to do. And they need more role models, which is why they are encouraging visits and hires of women scientists and engineers from other countries. I look forward to interacting with Ioki, as well as Aiumi in Nakagawa’s group. So far, that’s all the women I’ve met here except for Catia today, and Olga from Russia, another of Nakagawa’s graduate students.

Girls be Ambitious!