Minor jubilations Wednesday, Dec 2 2009 

Sunset

When I was a teenager I went with some friends from school on a day trip to the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney. We were organising members of the school’s “Christian society” called Students Alive (or “STIVE”). At the time I felt rather awkward, because my friends were awe-struck by the majesty of God’s creation, while I (in typically inept cradle Catholic style) just boggled at them, thinking “what’s so great about trees and rocks?”.

That was about seven years ago, and since then I have become a sort of man. (more…)

Angels defend us! Saturday, Nov 21 2009 

People don’t really believe in angels these days. The popular media is flooded with images of fat, laughing babies with useless little wings and sparkly harps sitting idly on clouds. As far as anyone is concerned, angels turn into fairies when they grow up, trading in their flab for sex appeal.

What they certainly don’t believe is that angels exist, they serve God (or satan) and are unimaginably powerful. In my English class this week we somehow came to talk about the phenomenon of “Shinigami” arising in Japanese popular culture, and how it is drawn not from Japanese spiritual traditions but a misunderstanding of the artistic representation of Death in European culture. From here I explained that angels are usually imagined as described above, but then drew a simple representation of the angels as described in Revelation: tall, robed figures with a halo, six of wings and (from Genesis) a flaming sword. Then I explained that even this was just a representation, since angels (like God) are spirits without bodies.

Now we come to the question of guardian angels. (more…)

Kyoto Wednesday, Nov 18 2009 

I went there at the weekend, with ten friends from Yamanashi and twenty Brazilian-born Japanese from all around Japan. It was without question the most enjoyable weekend I’ve had in Japan, though my one regret is that I wasn’t able to attend Mass.

I took about 1000 photos, of which I considered 300 or so worth publishing. See them over at my Flickr page.

A name, a seal Sunday, Nov 8 2009 

Inkan

When I first arrived in Japan I was surprised at the number of things I could do without this stamp. We had been told that to open a bank account, buy a cellular phone, pay our bills and register for classes we would need to make an 印鑑 “inkan”, the engraved name stamp used as a signature in East Asian countries with a Chinese cultural heritage.

It turns out that in recent years, Japanese companies have become a lot more accommodating to foreigners and their handwriting. Japanese family names tend to be only between one and three characters long (the common Suzuki is 鈴木) and fit very easily onto that little wooden stamp. My name on the other hand becomes seven characters in Japanese, nearly impossible to write. Other foreign names have even more syllables, prompting the Japanese post office (which provides insurance plans and savings accounts), major telephone providers and government offices to accept signatures in lieu of the stamp.

Really though, if you’re coming to Japan wouldn’t you want to get one of these cool looking stamps instead of just using your boring old signature everywhere? That’s how I felt, and so my Japanese friends came to the rescue with a home-grown solution. Ateji!

(more…)

Typhoon surprise Friday, Oct 9 2009 

Some of you may have heard about the typhoons (tropical cyclones, hurricanes) currently active in the western Pacific. One of them has spent the last week sitting on northern Luzon in the Philippines, basically making life miserable for thousands. Fortunately my extended family are a little further south, and live largely unaffected. The other one approached and landed in Japan early today, and has since passed through to the ocean again.

I first found out about the typhoon (presumably from the Japanese 「台風」”taifuu”) last night, from colleagues at the university. It had already been raining heavily for a week, though I did notice the wind getting stronger. By late afternoon the city office had sent cars around telling people to go home and shut themselves in, as the storm was intensifying. I remained to teach my class, but only one student appeared so we ended half an hour early.

This morning, I woke up at 6 to wind and rain beating on my building. I checked the weather alerts, and found a map of Japan marked completely red. Melor had just hit Aichi prefecture, and was expected to travel north-east directly up the middle of Honshu, the main island. This would have put Yamanashi square in its path, as well as keeping the entire island in its most intense area of influence. Naturally, the university issued an alert cancelling all classes for the day and encouraging students and staff to remain indoors.

This is when the unexpected happened. (more…)