November 29, 2010

Let's Talk About World Heritage in English ! Todai-ji Temple!

On a beautiful autumn day,  high school students visit Todai-ji Temple which is famous for Great Buddha (大仏-Daibutsu) and designated as World Heritage Site. There they enjoy guiding in English.
This is part of the English lesson of Ikuei High School.  Away from textbook English, the students study living English through this lesson by serving as the temporary guides for foreign travelers. 

Before the lesson, in school  they make their own sentences to guide  Todai-ji Temple  based on  those copies given to them.

 They are advised to heed the three important things while their guiding.
1. Big smile
2. Eye contact
3. Clear voice

Now, they are ready to go.

The  students  ask foreign travellers to listen to their explanations. .

Student: "I'm a 2nd grade high school student. Would you give me 5 minutes? I would like to tell you about Todai-ji Temple."
As soon as the  English speaking travellers know this is part of English class, all of them  instantly answer "Sure!"
 They  listen to the students with smiles, encouraging them to speak English. We appreciate their generous kindness. But, the students are very nervous.

Student:  "This is Great South Gate, the entrance to Todai-ji Temple."
Traveller:  "It's huge!"

S: "The gate is supported by 18 solid ・・・・."
T: "Would you tell me again?"

S: "They are a pair of guardian deities, made of more than 3000 wooden pieces."
T: "Amazing!"

S: "He is one of the four directional guardians."
T: "He is very scary!"

S: "In Nara Park there are about 1100 wild deer."
T: "Oh, they are wild!"
The students  give a thank-you note with their messages to express their hearty thanks.

 Time flies. Now the students finish the exciting English class and  look relieved, relaxed with confidence and satisfaction.

Our groupe helps the students study spoken English and  accompanies them in Todai -ji Temple to make the lesson go smoothly.This is our annual event.

 We are the first students who graduated from the three-month "English Guide Course for Adult Students" held by Tezukayama University. Now the fifth students are studying in the university.

November 28, 2010

Start of Winter

According to the lunar calender, November 7th made the start of winter.
 While  autumn leaves are boasting the last  glory of myriad shades of subtle beauty, winter is arriving in earnest.
Deer are eating silently to prepar for the hash winter.

November 21, 2010

Funny Funny Osaka People! Black Mayonnaise and Catherine

I was born in Kyoto and raised in Osaka. I have lived in Tokyo for seven  years. And now I live in Nara. Sometimes I miss  funny Osakans who are really born comedians.

Funny Advertisement in Osaka
This poster was so impactful that it stopped me walk and made me chuckle.  "Alone, Vancouver!" Soon I started to make a story about the chubby man in the poster.

"His dream was to be a figure skater and to perform in the Olympics. However things were not favorable to him, and he had to give up his dream. Maybe he was not talented enough or his appearance did not allow him to be a figure skater. But hearing  news of  the coming Vancouver Olympics, he rekindled his old dream. Now he is standing at the skating rink in Hira-Pa alone, wearing a flashy costume and posing."
"What a genius made such a funny poster!" , I thought.

Hira-Pa is the shortened name of Hirakata Park which is the oldest amusement park in Japan, and located in Hirakata city, Osaka. It is famous for beautiful chrysanthemum dolls in autumn.

One of Black Mayonnaise- the name of  comedy duo, Kosugi has been advertising Hira-Pa as a mascot character "Hira-Pa Niisan" which is the shortened name of "Hirakata Park no Oniisan" meaning Brother in Hirakata Park.

 What is going on in Hirakata Park now? The park  is  in the middle of election campaign spree to choose  Kosugi or another Black Mayonnaise,Yoshida for the second Hira-pa Niisan. Which one is  more suitable as Hira-Pa Niisan?  But, why did the election campaign start?

Because, one day very disturbing fact was disclosed. The disclosure is that  present Hira-Pa Niisan, Kosugi has been to Hira-Pa only once and  moreover, he likes a certain theme park in Osaka more than Hira-Pa.  On the contrary, Yoshida has been to Hira-Pa more than fifty times and  loves Hira-Pa the best.  Yoshida started claiming he would be better Hira-Pa Niisan than Kosugi. Here started the very heated election campaign- "The Hira-Pa Niisan Senkyo", "Election for Hira-Pa Niisan".  The fans of Black Mayonnaise are being confused, complaining that to force them to choose one of Black Mayonnaise is cruel, but at the same time they are enjoying this great joke and are  indulged in the very stupid spree . You can join this funny election to vote for in Hira-Pa until 22nd November. Only two days more!  Which one do you choose?

They have been  issuing their manifestos,  holding down each other and speaking ill of each other. Hira-Pa Niisan election  campaign is here.

Last minute apple-polishing!

Funny Bus Tour in Osaka

This is Duck Tour in Osaka. As the name shows, a bus is amphibian.  The windows of the bus are open without any glass. So, it is extremely hot in summer and freezing in winter. But in the bus, the temperature is always very  high because of a bus tour  guide.
This is  Catherine, a tour guide. She is a typical " Osaka no Obachan", literally meaning an ant of Osaka who is over kind,  very talkative, very curious and very very funny.

Catharine is a very funny and informative guide. She  tells us many interesting things about Osaka. Occasionally she says " Let's shout Ooooh!"  With our fists up, we shout "Ooooh"  very loudly. Whenever she finds  familiar faces, she shouts to them from the the bus, "Hello! How are you?" "Thank you, your coffee is very good!" and more. The loud, noisy shouts make pedestrians or passers-by startled. Soon we  find loudly shouting in the middle of  a big city like Osaka is a greater fun than expected.

This is the most dangerous moment for us when the bus goes from the land to the river.  A staff member of the Duck Tour company anxiously  watches the moment at the river bank. If he smiles, it means everything is all right. But, he frowns longer and makes us worried. Catherin says that  he enjoys acting more and more. The total tour takes 100 minuets. After the tour is finished, we will have released all stresses.

This huge duck has nothing to do with Duck Tour.

November 18, 2010

Celestial Being or Mutation? Great Buddha Hall at Todaiji Temple

Entering Great Buddha Hall in Todai-ji Temple in Nara, first you are welcomed by Great Buddha with the gestures of his hands.  The hand positions have religious meanings.  With his right hand in 施無畏-Semui position, he tells you "Do not be afraid. I will protect you". With his left hand in 与願-Yogan position, he tells you "I will grant all your wishes and prayers". 
 Great Buddha is called Vairocana in Sanskrit, meaning Shining Light of the Universe. He lights every corner of the universe without any shadows.  His light reaches all of the beings in universe to save them. He is the sun in the Buddhist  universe.

Once you come into Great Buddha Hall, you are already in his paradise. So, even the butterflies in front of Great Buddha are celestial beings and reside in his paradise.  As they are the celestial , they have  eight legs instead of six legs.

But over the past  ten years, these butterflies have been attracting attention of people specializing  in the development biology, and have served like the mascots or symbols for the research of homeobox genes. The homeobox genes play critical role in specifying the proper number and placement of segment structures ( such as legs, antenna, and eyes)  during the  embryonic development.  If the genes show abnormality, mutation will occur.

 When one development biologist visited Todaiji, he encountered these eight-legged butterflies.  "Homeotic Mutation!", he thought. And he chose one of the butterflies as the design for his book, "Master Control Genes in Development and Evolution: The Homeobox Story"in English , "ホメオボックス・ストーリー”in Japanese.  There he introduces the episode of the butterflies,  that more than one thousand years ago, the ancient Japanese might have been already chasing the clue of  the mystery of the  homeotic mutation.
"Very inspiring!", I heaved a deep sigh of amazement.   However, the present Great Buddha Hall is the third one which was rebuilt in 1709 since the hall was burnt down two times and rebuilt two times. So I am not sure whether the first Great Buddha Hall had eight-legged butterflies or not. I hope it had them. Imagine in the 8th century, an artist caught an eight-legged butterfly and took it as the celestial butterfly.  He soon decided to make bronze butterflies with eight legs to offer them to Great Buddha. More than 1000 years later, one development biologist came to Nara from the distant country.  He met  the eight-legged butterflies and connected development biology to the acient people in Nara,  transcending time.

I want  to ponder it, bathing in the lingering depth of  his idea.

November 16, 2010

From Negative to Positive, Diageo World Class

Early July, TV was on, but I did not listen to it.  Suddenly, the words, a  local bartender in Nara,  caught my ears. I started to watch TV.  It was the short documentary on the bartender contest to choose No.1 bartender in Japan. The winner would be able to participate the international bartender contest, Diageo World Class held in July in Athens, Greece. Diageo World Class for bartenders  is equivalent  to World Cup for soccer players.

First, fifteen bartenders were selected from all over Japan  and they were narrowed down to five. One of them was the local bartender in Nara, Mr. Watanabe and the other four were the bartenders working for the first-class hotels in Tokyo. (image taken from google)


Mr. Watanabe was very effective, especially  in the skill test, called  Card Draw Challenge. Each of them drew one card  with a different  theme, and each one had to make the most suitable cocktail following the theme . The given theme to Mr. Watanabe was to help a couple in their twenties. As it was their first date, their conversation was awkward. Mr. Watanabe chose gin based cocktail which was compounded gin with fresh peach juice, black tea and added a little bit  mint to cheer up the young couple. His attitude was cool  and the color of the cocktail was supreme. He became the winner.
I applauded most heartily.                                               (image taken from google)

But I was resented since the narrator in the program always called Mr.Watanbabe, the local bartender in Nara. The expression "Local" for a bartender sounded me  negative since "Local" implies "Rural" in Japanese , so I felt  it was  impolite to Mr. Watanabe.

Soon I tapped and looked in my compute. His bar is a member's bar-THE SAILING BAR in Sakurai City, Nara.  In the menu of his bar, there is no names of cocktails. Because  he makes the cocktail which fits his guests the best,  judging their feelings or conditions from conversation.

In Asahi Newspaper of November 14th,  I found the least expected answer from Mr. Watanabe.  It is his stance as a local bartender or his thinking of what is  "Local-Rural".
In the newspaper, he says, the rich nature in the rural town  has been heightening and  inspiring  his sensitivity and palate. Also, he  has cherished this saying " The local is the international."  given by his customers. He has beautifully changed the negative to the positive.

 That's why he was selected as the best bartender in Japan, excelling the other first-class bartenders.

The paper also says, twenty four of the most talented and inspirational bartenders were chosen to participate in Diageo World Class which had 9000 entries from the world. He was the ninth in twenty four bartenders representing twenty  four countries.

I want to applaud most heartily again.

November 07, 2010

The Cat Which Lived One Million Times. 100万回生きたねこ

Yoko Sano, the author who wrote "The Cat Which Lived One Million Times", one of the most beautiful fantasies, passed away on November 5th.
More than twenty years ago I read this picture book  to my son many times and every time, I was moved as much as my son was. Millions of mothers and children have shared the deep emotion through this book.

The story is the life story of one brindled cat which died and was reborn one million times. He became a cat of a King, a sailor, a magician, a lonely old woman, a little girl and more. Every time he died, the owners cried and cried. But he hadn’t cried at all. He did not like his owners. He liked only  himself very much.

At one time he had no owner, so lived for himself. He boasted about having lived one million times, saying “I am really something!” Although a number of cats badly wanted to be his friends, one white cat didn’t show any interest in him. He became to be interested in her. He stopped bragging and asked her “Can I be with  you?” She said “Yes.” They got  to cuddle always and felt it most important to be together. They had many children and became older. He loved her and their children above all. The children grew up and left the nest. One day she didn’t wake up anymore lying beside him. He cried for the first time  and cried one million times. And he slept beside her and never came to life again.

The story is more than a picture book, deep and inspirational, and surely written for all of us regardless of age. Each of us can make each interpretation. He lived one million times, however was he happy? He lived only one life with her, however he was the happiest. “Can I be with you?” ”Yes.”- This short and simple conversation sank into my heart quietly. This story reminded me of  something warmly cherished.  I want to read this book again at long autumn night.

I'd like to offer my deepest condolences.