Posts Tagged ‘kyoto’

This is a modern English language translation of Kajii Motojirō’s short story “Lemon” that I undertook. It is a story about a man who has fallen on hard times, but despite it all he retains his ability to find beauty in the most unusual places. In particular, he chances to find a lemon which is indescribably perfect, and the very act of holding it soothes him inexplicably. The protagonist’s final action of leaving this lemon on a pile of books in Maruzen (a high-quality book and stationary store) was so unusual and inspiring that it triggered a series of similar incidents amongst students who read this short story and wanted to replicate this subversive act of defiance. This story is a classic and is widely used in school textbooks in Japan.

It was quite a challenge to translate as it does not lend itself to the English language particularly easily. His style is poetic, and highly impressionistic, leaving much to the readers’ interpretation. I have done my best to keep it as faithful to the original as possible, and convey the highly sensory aspects of it as concisely as possible.

「檸檬」 梶井基次郎。小説のオンラインバージョンはこちらへ:  LINK TO JAPANESE VERSION OF THE TEXT ONLINE (opens in a new window)
This took me many hours to translate; please respect the time and energy I spent in translating this by NOT posting this on your site OR messageboard WITHOUT A LINK AND CREDIT. Thanks!



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Sorry for such a long absence!

The last month and a bit has been very busy with a fantastic 10 day visit from my parents, never ending mountains of work, and a trip up to Niigata for a weekend of snowboarding!

Seeing my parents was a really nice break and we managed to cram a lot of travel into a short period of time, visiting places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara, as well as Nagoya! Its interesting to see Japan through their eyes since it was their first visit. Some of the things I take for granted here or have become used to are actually really strange when you think about it – like the lack of fresh vegetables in my diet, vending machines which serve anything from a meal to beer to hot drinks in cans and cold tea in bottles, crows which are the size of a semi-detached in Harlow, and how can I forget the crunchy bean bag “rice pillows”!

I think my favourite place we went to was Kobe due to its small size and the friendliness of everybody I spoke to.

Throughout the trip we stayed in a mix of normal western hotels and Japanese style ryokan with tatami mat floors and futon. We visited a whole variety of places from the ancient mossy zen temples of 8th century Japan in Kyoto and Nara to the more modern style of Kobe and a glimpse at sprawling and gittering futuristic-tecnology-centric Tokyo (Shibuya, Akihabara, Ginza etc).

Other stuff:

Snowboarding was absolutely fantastic! I loved every minute of it. I had never done it before, but I guess all that practise at surfing on the tube back home helped because I got pretty good pretty quickly. Rumi taught us the basics and before lunchtime we were hitting up the Intermediate level slopes! Its just as well I’m fearless when it comes to stuff like that because it meant that hurtling down the slopes at what feels like 1000 mph without having fully grasped the concept of braking or mastering basic steering was a lot more fun! The snow was abundant and beautiful, and such good quality. Luckily the 9 hour bus journey was worth it – going an extra couple hours north of the highly popular Nagano resort meant that the slopes were virtually deserted and the snow hadn’t become compacted into ice. I lost my phone the first morning and I thought that it was buh-bye (either destroyed by water damage from melting snow, or buried under fresh snow that fell later that day, or stolen) but this is Japan. I found it the next day – someone had handed it in! What a miracle. All in all it was an amazing weekend. I didn’t break anything, although the proceeding few days had me in a world of pain, the likes of which I haven’t experienced for a very long time!

The workload this term is much more than I anticipated, with business Japanese taking up a lot of my time (learning how to use honorifics in the workplace is essentially learning a whole new set of verbs for all the basic actions and their respective conjugated forms… fun.) On the flip side we went to the Asahi Newspaper office in Nagoya to see “a real Japanese work place in action” and although I only got the bare minimum of what the tour guide was saying it was an interesting experience, plus  we got a bunch of cool freebies.

Taking my first ever foreign policy class this term has also been a challenge – it is absolutely fascinating and the teacher makes it interesting, but its pretty hardcore for a newbie like myself having to start from scratch! The learning curve is steep but I prefer it that way. I’m finding out all sorts of things about Japan and its politics that I should probably have known before; for example, Japan is still technically at war with Russia having never signed the peace treaty at the end of WW2! (Its all to do with the fact that the land border of the northern territories is still disputed.

Ikebana and Sumie (black ink painting) are still my”escape classes” and I love having them as a creative outlet. Last Friday in sumie we were practising all the different types of brush-stokes we have learnt so far and the main task was to create out own new brushstroke. As he was walking around and checking our work he saw the one I had designed and said that he had never seen one like it before – that it was highly original and should be called “Shepheard Stroke”! He then proceeded to show the rest of the class and use it as an example of what you can do with different types of pressure and water/ink balance. So I felt really chuffed about that!

I’m doing English Conversation with a few pupils on the side to earn a little bit of extra money which is working really well for me. The exchange rate is so bad right now that earning yen is far more lucrative than it used to be, and so a fairly standard fee of 3000 yen suddenly has  increased in value from about £15 to a mighty £25! Even though its only occasional, its actually quite fun and once you have the materials its really easy.

A final thought; My theory of Umbrella Karma. Sometimes you lose your umbrella or it gets borrowed/stolen. Other times you may have to “borrow” from other people. Its a never ending cycle trying to stay in balance. There is also a black hole where all the lost umbrellas go – umbrellas left in shops, bars clubs. It is also an indisputable fact that umbrellas are able to grow legs and walk. Possibly towards said black hole.

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For the last month or so, one group of friends  have been telling me of the wonders of a particular restaurant in Nara (not so far from Kyoto). This restaurant was said to have served very authentic and delicious Indian food the like of which I have not seen for over 4 months. Ever since they got back they have been talking about making a return trip, and on a complete whim (and also out of boredom) I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about.

My oh my. I was not disappointed! Proper Indian food, tasty, hot, flavoursome, authentic AND all you can eat (cooked to order) for only 2500yen! We all ate until we could barely move!

Whilst we were in Nara we also got to see the giant Buddha that sits in the middle of the main park in the worlds largest wooden structure. The Buddha is absolutely vast; one really does have to wonder how they made it all those years ago.

We also got to feed the deer which were a little too hungry/friendly for my comfort. They are “technically” wild, and they roam around the markets and parks like cattle in India, although I don’t know if they would be able to survive on their own without all the tourists feeding them deer cakes. Far too much time was spent trying not to get  nibbled or headbutted, or indeed running away like a little girl from these cute critters which are only a bit bigger than dogs! Luckily the males have their antlers removed or else I would probably be in a world of pain right now…

Argh! Deer!

Oh I almost forgot to write how we had a nice little adventure getting home too. We arrived and planned to return via JR local trains which is a pretty cheap route if you have the time and don’t mind a couple of changes. Unfortunately we forgot to check how late the various lines ran and we missed the last connecting train. Luckily we checked before we left because if we had got stuck at Kameyama then that would have meant Actual Death, by which I mean spending the night in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with no hotel or place to stay, no place to eat and no food in temperatures which have recently been barely above zero.

So we took a very long winded route home via Kyoto from where we caught the shinkansen home. Saying it like that makes it sound like a rather casual affair, but in all honesty we caught it by the skin of our teeth! I’ve always admired how punctual Japanese trains are. They are Never, Ever EVER late. Especially not the bullet trains. Their reputation depends on it. However, for some reason (*cough* MIRACLE *cough*) this particular train was 4 minutes and 30 seconds late. Buying the tickets for shinkansen always takes a bit of time so you can imagine what it was like trying to get six tickets in only 5 minutes! If it had not been for those extra 270 seconds… Even one of the guys agreed it was the most compelling evidence for the existence of God that he had ever seen!

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The last couple of weeks has been a mixed bag of emotions. I’ve had some real highs  – like seeing my Cousin Hazel in Kyoto with Toddles in tow; great fun now he is running around everywhere! And he has grown SO big since I saw him last! – but its brought about a lot of low points too. Saying good bye to a lot of people on my course I’ve made friends with over the last few months was sad enough, but a couple of my really good friends were leaving too which is a bit of a blow. Luckily we are living in the age of Skype! The other thing was that this year was my first ever Christmas away from home and while I was expecting it to be hard, it was even harder than I imagined. I kept myself as busy as possible to keep my mind off the fact that I wasn’t with family, firstly on Christmas eve by going to one of my good Japanese friends’ house.

Since I live in halls, I really appreciate getting this kind of home-stay experience! After paying respects to the family shrine we entered Haruna’s grandparents house – enormous and incredibly Japanese in every single way with tatami flooring, sliding doors, with an outer corridor surrounding the inner rooms. We had a real feast for lunch and although I though I had tried almost everything before they still found things to surprise me! Remarkably, they have a small amount of land and grow all their own rice, vegetables and fruit, as well as making their own plum-wine liqueur, pickles and other things! Naturally it was all delicious – there’s nothing like home cooked food!! I enjoyed talking to them – even if they spoke with a really thick dialect accent that made it hard to understand! Her grandma is an inspiration – at 70 she still does Japanese archery and competes at a national level – I saw the trophies! They were so kind and very generously gave me a whole bag of goodies to take home with me – home grown clementines, pickles, sweet potatoes and dried persimmons.

Afterwards we went on to her family home and I got to meet her mum and dad. We made nabe which is kind of like clear soup with meat and vegetables or whatever you have lying around – for that very reason its becoming a favourite of mine! I got to try out her koto which I suppose is a cross between a guitar and a piano – very strange – and heard all about her dad entering the famously hardcore Iron Man competition for a second time!

We then had drinks at My Bar and after a long long walk from Sakae all the way to Don Quixote in Kanayama/Nagoya Eki decided to crash out at a Manga Cafe till the first train home. Christmas day itself was also very very different to what I’m used to; replace the roast with raw octopus, soy beans and radish salad, the wine with beer, and instead of carols at church think of carols at karaoke and you’ve got a pretty good approximation! I actually had a pretty fun day in the end but I’m really glad its over now so I can enjoy the rest of my holiday.

Here are some pics…

I’m going off to Tokyo for New Years Eve and to see a bit more what I missed last time, like Akihabara, a bit more Harajuku and maybe we will try and catch a glimpse of the first sunrise of the new year from the vantage point of the Roppongi Hills Hotel…

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Its been a little while since I last wrote because of a combination of a terrible cough, a couple of presentations and a trip to Osaka! Anyway, here is a bit of an update.

About a month ago my Japanese friend George and I decided we wanted to go on a trip to Osaka and Kyoto, so 7 of us set off for a weekend away. We took a coach to Kyoto and after lunch headed off to Kiyomizudera which is one of the largest temples in Kyoto. We really wanted to see the autumn colours and as it is quite high up on the side of a mountain it has a beautiful view. It has an amazing structure as well, even more amazing when you take into consideration no nails or metal was used in its construction. I heard this is something to do with Buddhists respect for nature – all the pieces of wood are slotted together and positioned in such a way that makes it incredibly strong without “damaging” the wood.



View over Kyoto

View over Kyoto

A common thing to do at shrines and temples is to buy a fortune paper. There are different levels of luck, and within those levels you have degrees of luckiness and they are supposed to tell your fortune for wealth, luck, work, love etc. If they are bad then you tie them up to break the “bad luck”, and if they are good you take them home. George bought one from a specialist love shrine and he got the top degree of the top level of luck, and he was literally jumping around!

すごくいいラブラブおみくじをGET! うらやましい!

すごくいいラブラブおみくじをGET! うらやましい!

We hung out in Kyoto for quite a while, looking around the hundreds of little stalls selling souvenirs and lucky charms, fans and kimonos, and feeling all cultural before heading on to the party capital of Japan: Osaka. I’d never been to Osaka before and had heard mixed reports about it, so I was pretty interested to see it for myself.

Glico Building at Night

Glico Building at Night

Its an intimidating place, big, brash, and bold. People say what they think and dress as they like. Unlike Tokyo which seemed to be oozing men in suits from every pore, Osaka is very young, very hip and almost a bit too cool for school. The streets are lined with “Hosts” (very good looking 18-25 year old men with whom lonely women pay a lot of money to talk to) and every different kind of urban tribe is represented there: ギャル、ギャル男、ヘンプ、姫ギャル、ホスト、ガングロ、ロン形、姉ギャル。。。全部いっぱい!ほかの形もあったが、何というか分からない.

When we arrived we got off to a bad start with a terrible meal with the worst service ever (it seemed worse because service in Japan is normally so good), but things did get better. After a little wander around we checked into our capsule hotel which was really awesome! I’ve always wanted to stay in one, but it was even better than I was expecting. The Capsules are stacked 2 high down a maze of long corridors. They are a bit bigger than a single bed with enough room to sit up in; I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. The whole point of them is that they are a place to crash out when you miss the last train home, so while they are not luxurious, they are more than adequate and everything you might need is provided. Pyjamas, toothbrush, makeup remover, shampoo/soap, even washing machines. If you need a shirt, tie and pants for a board meeting the next day, its OK – you can buy them there! I could happily travel around Japan entirely in capsule hotels – who needs a whole room anyway?! At only 2800 yen its a bit like a futuristic hostel. The only slightly strange thing is not having a door – instead there is a blind of very thick material you pull down.

Joy in a capsule (or a capsule full of Joy...)

Joy in a capsule (or a capsule full of Joy...)

I was slightly concerned that after going clubbing we might not be able to find our capsules; it was an absolute maze of a couple of hundred capsules and its not like a hotel where if your key wont work if you  get the wrong door, here you might actually wake someone!

Capsule Hotel!

Capsule Hotel!

I did conceive a game along the lines of Russian roulette involving shutting lots of blinds hiding someone in a random capsule… but at the risk of getting kicked out and having a sleepless night wandering the streets of Osaka we decided not to.

I met up with a friend from SOAS studying in Osaka, and we went to a bar before going on clubbing. It was really good to catch up with him and to talk about things we miss like London and NIGHT BUSES! Later on, we took some Americans under our wings since they knew no Japanese and had the look of rabbits caught in headlights!

There are things I liked about Osaka, and it was fun to visit. It is definitely the party capital of Japan and since that’s what we did it was a really fun time! However, all the people we spoke to were so rude and its the first place I’ve visited in Japan that I wouldn’t want to wander around by myself at night. There’s something a little bit sleazy about Osaka, and then there is the high proportion of tacky tourist attractions and the litter strewn everywhere… Its got a kind of faded glamour about it, and in some strange way it reminded me of a parallel-universe-London which I find worrying – are all my memories of London rose tinted, and am I going to hate it when I go home?

Mmmm FUGU! On a street in Osaka.

Mmmm FUGU! On a street in Osaka.

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This first month has absolutely flown by, and I can hardly believe its October already! I’ve just got internet in my room which I’m so happy about (even if it isn’t wireless and has taken a month to arrive!) So I’ll be able to update more frequently from now on.

I just got back from a study trip to Kyoto which was one of the best things I’ve done so far in Japan. It was so nice to really get to know my classmates and spend time in such a beautiful city! First of all we went around the Ritsumeikan University Peace Museum. We could do the tour in Japanese or English so I decided I would go for the challenge! Luckily I was pleasantly surprised how much I could understand. My Japanese has already improved so much; a couple of months ago I would have only got the overall meaning, but I’m now at a stage where I really understand things like this in more detail. The lady who gave the tour was so passionate about war history of Japan that it was not only educational but really interesting.

After the tour we did a workshop to help us think about ways we can make our world more peaceful and at the end we had to create a “recipe for peace”!

We had a big party at an Izakaya (very traditional Japanese pub-restaurant, where one eats a large variety of small dishes whilst drinking heavily) and many shenanigans followed. Drinking in Japan is great fun, not only because Japanese people love the silliness of drinking, but also because of a wonderful thing called 飲み放題 which means you pay about £7 and you can drink as much as you want (or can) for 90 mins. And the next day, unlike in the UK, none of the Japanese discuss the embarrassing details of the night before!! Whilst this is kind of expensive for most of the Japanese girls, pink and merry after 1 drink, for the exchange students it was very good value for money! Even our teacher of older years downed a drink or two!

The next day we saw a few shemples (shrines and temples; 数きれない), had a fantastic lunch at a rather posh restaurant, did some shopping and generally mooched about in the rain.

For the first time since arriving in Japan, I felt a very strange mixture of emotions. Arriving at Kyoto station, all the memories of teaching near there flooded back! Visiting Keihan Sanjo tube and other places was also very nostalgic; I used to visit them once or twice a week for 3 months! Going back to Kyoto a second time, this time being able to read all the signs and understand the announcements etc was also a strange feeling, because last time couldn’t understand any of it!

I was also surprised because I could actually notice differences in the way people speak! I couldnt put my finger on what it was but the accent was somehow different, and they use different words too. We always learn about it in linguistics but I never thought I would be able to tell the difference.

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