Wednesday, April 29, 2009

「真犯人・スパロウはこの中にいる!!」

After a horrible Saturday, it was great weather Sunday and I went to Sakura-shi in Chiba with Benjamin 2 号 to visit the Jidai Matsuri (the period festival), where they were also celebrating 400 years of Dutch-Japanese international relations. Though it was quite hard to find anything Dutch at the festival, except for the Australians who were acting as the Dutch in some costume play and whom we learned some Dutch words.



Anyway, the matsuri was great, lots of people just having fun with taiko performances, odori and delicous foodstuffs.

Tuesday we didn't have class because it was Queen's Day. Alright, technically, the 28th is not Queen's Day, but because the Dutch Embassy was having its party that day, we all pretended it was. All that counted was that we had a free day. In any case, most of us picked up our gaikokujintourokushou, our identity card and afterwards, I went with a small group to Nakano Broadway to go to slightly more underground manga shops. I picked up a nice (and quite gruesome) comic adaption of grandfather of the Japanese detective novel Edogawa Rampo's Panoramatou Kidan ("The Strange Tale of Panorama Isle"), for which the author Maruo Suehiro actually got this years Tezuka Osamu's Cultural Award: Best New Artist award. I am happy to say that I can even buy manga for the sake of research into Japanese detectives.

The party at the Embassy was kinda boring in the beginning, but actually ended up to be fun. The current Embassador is a really nice and funny guy. For some of us who really missed Dutch cheese, there was plenty and some even smuggled cheese back to the mansion. And the six degrees of seperation theorem certainly seems plausible now, as I indirectly know the Japanese emperor and the Dutch queen.

The Embassy is by the way pretty much right next to the Tokyo Tower and after the party ended, we wandered towards the pretty lights of the Tower, but they just closed when we arrived. In fact, they actually waited till we stood in front of the counter before they closed.

Wednesday was a national holiday (birthday of the Showa emperor or something like that) and I went with Marit and Benjamin 1 号 to Takao-san, an hour from Shinjuku. Takao-san is not mister Takao. It's a mountain. And I am sad to say I actually misheard Marit at least 3 times and kept asking her who that Takao was she was talking about. But anyway, I once promised her I would go with her to watch birds, as she is a birdwatcher, so I went bird watching. It was quite fun, walking to the top of mister Takao (stats: 599 meters high) and it made me realize that non-smogged air is indeed better than smog-filled air. Too bad it was a national holiday, because it was fairly crowded and the top of the mountain was pretty much the same as any big park in Tokyo. Crowded with people picknicking. Those people probably didn't even go the hardcore walking way, but took the easy path with the cable car going through monkey parks or something.



Birdwatching was quite hard and I only spotted a couple of them with my bare eyes (Equipment: +10 glasses) and only one with binoculars. It's like those birds are mocking you with their calls, luring you like a Greek Siren with their voices. You just know they are there, somewhere, but they never show themselves. Birdwatching also reminded me a lot of the game Pokémon Snap, and yes, somehow, it would have been awesome if I could have let two birds fight each other by throwing Pokéfood between them. Maybe next time.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

『本屋の掟』 ("The Laws of Bookstores")

This week went fast as well, with normal classes, but we were also visited by the rector magnificus of the University Leiden and professor Smits to check upon the guinea pigs for this project (which is supposed to be offered to a selection of second years Japanese students every year from now on), a birthday party as one of the group ... had his birthday and lots of news on television about naked idols prancing around in parks at night.

Today, it's filthy Dutch-like weather. Rain. And I still have a paper for Material Culture to write. So to uphold a long-held tradition, I'm going to distract myself by writing about other stuff. And it was about time I got this off my chest. This will the superspecialawesome all-defining post about my experiences with bookstores in Japan. I warned the reader in the first post for this.

(I should have made book stores the subject of my Material Culture research.)

イ) Murder on the Orient Express (On the location of bookstores)

Bookstores here are just about everywhere. You couldn't swing a bat around without hitting a bookstore. Of course, you'd first hit a vending machine and then a restaurant, but for the bibliophile, Japan is the holy land. Also, there are both big bookstores with new books (like the Kinokuniya near Shinjuku Station), but also chains like Book-Off that sell second hand books.

ロ) The ABC Murders (On the logic of bookstores)

When first entering the bookstore (after surviving an avalanche of irasshaimase! ("welcome!"), you'd be stumped with how the heck you're ever gonna find the book you want. Different from bookstores in other countries, here the books are first categorized by publisher and then the name (in the Japanese sound order of A-I-U-E-O). Which means you need to know by whom the book/author you're looking for is published. Making things even more difficult, authors might have books published by different companies (yeah, I'm looking at you, Higashino Keigo), which pretty much forces you to skim every part of the store when looking for books.

ハ)The Chinese Orange Mystery (On people standing in the alleys)

As you're browsing for some books, you'll definitely walk into someone blocking your way through the aisle. Or blocking your sight at the bookcases. That's because everyone here participates in the activity of tachiyomi, reading standing. People are reading manga comics and books in the store, sometimes reading for more than half an hour. And it's considered normal here. People actually finish some books, return it to the shelf and move further down to read even more and might leave without buying anything. My reading speed isn't anywhere near fast enough to pull this off as neatly as the Japanese, so even if I wanted to do it, I couldn't do it. But seeing all those silent bodies in the library as zombies is quite strange sight. And slightly annoying.

ニ) 容疑者Xの献身 (The Devotion of Suspect X) (On bookcovers)

Bookstores often wrap an plain book cover with only a store logo around your book, preventing from people seeing what you're reading. It feels strange to me that you would want to hide want you read. Of course, the Harry Potter books are also sold with all over the earth with both a 'normal' cover as a 'adults cover', so maybe it's not that strange (as a side note though, you also have 'normal' and 'adults' cover versions of Tezuka Osamu's manga).

ホ) Ellery Queen: The Adventure of the Black Secret (On second hand stores)

You have some great second hand bookstores here and second hand here is usually quite good quality (in comparison to the Dutch "Zo goed als nieuw", "Pristine quality", which usually actually means that it's in bad shape). Most second hand stores have a great selection (ranging from older books to books which released just a month earlier ago) and with a large part of that selection going away for just 105 yen a piece, it is difficult to leave the store without something in your hands.

へ) The Burglar in the Library (On detective fiction in stores)

As noted earlier, detective fiction is available everywhere in Japan. A large part of the 現代日本作家 (contemporary Japanese writers) section consist of detective writers and larger stores like the Shinjuku Kinokuniya even have an entire section devoted to criticist literature on detective fiction and writers. After some years getting into Japanese detective fiction, I still don't why the genre is still so popular here (in comparison the pretty much dead situation in the Netherlands), with great drama shows, anime, books et cetera being available everywhere. This is not a complaint by the way :3 The detective writers usually have some tachiyomi-ing people and I have even seen a kid frantically trying to get that one Higashino Keigo book just outside her reach. I love Japan's love for the detective novel.

And thanks to the omnipresency of cheap detective novels, my room here is steadily looking more and more like my room in the Netherlands. Which some might know, is pretty much like a well stocked bookstore. I fear the day I have to leave Japan and get all this back to the Netherlands.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

「真実はいつも一つ!」

Went to see Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser with Els today, which was a superspecialawesome movie. We wanted to go yesterday, as that was the first day the movie was shown, but surprisingly, tickets were sold out about everywhere pretty much immediately (movie tickets here, by the way, are quite expensive. 1800 yen!).

So kinda disappointed, we settled for today. As tickets sold fast as well today, we made a quick jump to and from Ikebukero around 14.00 to get tickets for the last showing at 18:30, thus missing the rest who went to a park nearby our mansion. We wanted to join the rest after our return, but we just never found the park. We still don't have a clue where the friggin' park is. Pretty sure we went the right direction, but it was not to be. Of course, with my sense of (mis)direction, the search was hopeless to begin with.

Back at the theater, several things stood out. First was the blond gaijin Els amongst the waves of Japanese people. But besides that, it was pretty cool that the people who were going to see this animation movie were... just normal people going to the movies. I was expecting more... kids and stuff, but the Detective Conan movies seem to be regarded as just normal movies by the Japanese public (or maybe animation movies in general). Also, the people were actually quite silent during the movie, which was nice, as I could actually hear dialogue instead of people talking. And they actually stayed in their seats until the credits ended. Certainly different from the Dutch experience.

The movie was as said superspecialawesome, but only people reading/watching Detective Conan would understand the superspecialawesome-ness. It has to do with Irish Whiskey, the Big Dipper, suspenders, mahjong and the Beatles. And loose threads of plot regarding turbo-powered skateboards left in the lobby of the Tokyo Tower. Ah, it was pretty evil that The Raven Chaser merchandise was sold inside the theater and I consciencely stepped into the trap.

Detective Conan for me is a important series, as it introduced me to the world of Japanese detective novels and in a way has gotten me all the way here to Tokyo. So it was kinda full circle-ly stuff when I finally got to see Detective Conan in the theaters here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

「小さくなっても頭脳は同じ、迷宮なしの名探偵」

I really have to quit walking in and out of the Book-Off here...

And in other news, the first week of classes has ended and it has been interesting. We have been divided in two classes, but it was not on basis of our placement test results (which went surprisingly well) or family name and it seems we're going to change classes again Monday, so it was probably just entirely random.

Anyway, while we still use the same books as our collegues in Leiden, we don't really translate anymore, as our teachers don't know Dutch. Although, one of them has lived for a year in the Netherlands, in Alkmaar if I remember correctly, and I suspect her of eavesdropping on our Dutch conversations. But whatever the case, we just practice reading comprehension and sentence structures in Japanese and it really helps that the whole class is in Japanese, even though it does make explaining/asking things difficult ("Information shimasu-en?" XD). Japanese style of teaching also includes a lot of repeating, with the teacher asking a impossibly long sentence (ending with a question particle 'ka') and all she wants is that you repeat her sentence. We also learn loads of new useful words, which I really like! My vocabulairy is OK, but I still haven't found the right occasion for 死亡推定時刻 (estimated time of demise), so words like the five senses or 大麻 (Cannabis) are a bit more useful. We are from Holland, you know.

All in all, while the first day was really a shock, with the passing days, we all slowly get used to it. Of course, we also have Material Culture and long-distance Classical Japanese classes to follow, which is kinda... hard.

This week of going back and forth between Ekota and the JNI also made us part of the impressive image of packed trains in the morning. You usually do have some space in the train, but at times you get someone who actually leans on your back with all his weight in order to sleep. I hate you, you Japanese man on the Seibu-Ikebukero line. In general though, gaijin do get some more personal space than other people. With me, as an Asian, they usually mistake me for a Japanese until I open my mouth. The Japanese don't really talk in the train in the mornings, but for me, it creates breathing space, so I do try to talk. Breathing space is precioussss...

Seeing the daily life of the Japanese at the train stations, I begin to understand why a writer like Nishimura Kyoutarou can write countless of train mysteries and still be so popular here. I also begin to understand why detectives are quite popular here, because everytime I switch on the television for news, it's about murder.

OK, it's murder, or food, or the weather.

I still am very impressed by the sheer amount of detective-related stuff here. Every Saturday a movie-length detective on TV, great detective-drama shows (33分探偵 (33 Minute Detective) and 名探偵の掟 (The Laws of Great Detectives) are great parody shows), the amount of detectives per bookstore here is more than 20 bookstores in the Netherlands in total have (which sadly is nowhere near an exaggeration). Which reminds that the new Detective Conan movie, The Raven Chaser, is being shown at theaters from today on, so I'll have to go see it :3

Sunday, April 12, 2009

「この超簡単な事件、33分もたせてやる!」

The last days flew by with all kinds of happenings which wouldn't really justify a full post, but I'll なんやかんや, somehow, drag it out to something.

The Japanese test was... interesting. It consisted of three parts, two short essays and a short conversation with a Japanese teacher (three hours combined). The three test were similar to the Grammar/Communicative conventions exams, but the third was very difficult, with lots of stuff we didn't cover yet.

About the people at the JNI, Yanagizawa-san and mr. Remmelink might have a comedy-act on the side, because when they're together in the room, they keep tsukkomi-ing each other. Also, Yanagizawa-san keeps buying us food :3

Thursday we also went to Ueno Park, which was a nice park where the sakura were still in blossom. What was funny though was that we ran into this strange man in Ueno Park, who said we (as foreigners) were stealing the Japanese women, something about tropical fish and colors and in what was very strange, he kept pointing at me while he was summing up physical features of Western people like blond hair and blue eyes. Last time I checked, I have neither.

Book-Offs are evil. I keep being drawn to them and it's hard to not buy stuff there. Book-Off is certainly winning this fight against my mind for my wallet, but I keep pretending it's okay to buy Japanese detective novels because I'll need them for my research later this year at KyuuDai. As long I say that to myself,I feel less bad.

The disaster safety training Saturday was pretty fun. It was at the pyramiddy fire station of some place the name of which I really can't remember at the moment. We received training in how to react in smoke situations by manuevering through a maze with smoke, how to extinguish fire with fire extinguishers (in a sort-of shoot'em up arcade game simulation), how to react in a earthquake (with a real earthquake simulation!) (grab a cushion, hide under a table) and we experienced a tsunami rain simulation (which I really, really don't want to experience in real life, because even the worst Dutch rain doesn't come close to that).

(I finally bought a camera, but I keep forgetting that I have one now so I don't have too many pictures)

Japanese classes are to begin tomorrow, everyday from 09:00 till 12:30, which I'm kinda looking forward to!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Yesterday was a long day, but the first day in Japan has finally passed and all have arrived safely here ,after a flight which was actually shorter than expected and included a pleasant surprise as they showed the movie 容疑者Xの献身 (Yougisha X no Kenshin (”The Devotion of Suspect X")), a movie in the Detective Galileo series. Have been wanting to see the it ever since I read the book last year and it turned out to be an excellent movie. To quote Galileo, 実に面白い (jitsu ni omoshiroi, ("truly amusing")).

But anyway, coming back to the topic of Japan, we were kindly picked up by mr. Remmelink of the Japan-Netherlands Institute and brought to Tokyo by the Skyliner train. Which was a fairly normal train, save for the fact while the seats were set to all face the same direction, you could actually turn the seats 360 degrees, resulting in revolving hilarity during the long trip, people passing by who were possibly thinking the worst of those gaijin playing around and further confirming the fact that transforming robots originate from Japan. I was half-expecting combining trains.

The rest of the day consisted of a small introduction at the Japan-Netherlands Institute, getting the procedures started for our gaikokujintourokushou (foreign registration card), which we unfortunately won't be getting until the end of April, installing ourselves in our rooms at the Weekly Mansions in Ekota near Ikebukero, eating curry, going from one place with pretty lights to the other like the moths we were and an epic, everlasting battle against the Greek god Hypnos.

Walking through Ekota, we found a Book-Off around the corner, a superspecialawesome chain of second-hand books. And while we have such chains in the Netherlands too like De Slegte, the prices and selection here just can't be beat. I had to control myself to not immediatly go for a shopping spree on my first day, though seeing a complete 金田一少年の事件簿 (Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi")) set go for a mere 4000 Yen, or the 封神演義 (Houshin Engi, "Romance of the Sealing of the Gods")) set for 2000 Yen was very, very hard to resist. In the end, I settled for some detective novels by Higashino Keigo (of the above-mentioned Detetive Galileo series) and Norizuki Rintarou (which seem to be homages to the excellent Tragedy of... series by Ellery Queen).

Somehow, I felt both a victor and a loser when leaving the store. More the victor though. Of course, entering pretty much every store will prove to be a challenge as even convenience stores stock the latest detective novels.

Today, we're supposed to gather at 8.30 to leave for the Japan-Netherlands Institute again, getting an introduction of the Institute, with the afternoon to ourselves. Tomorrow though, we'll be doing a placement test to assest our language proficiency and to split us up in two groups.

Crime scene pictures will follow when I err... actually have purchased a camera, but till then, I'll act the gentleman-thief part and steal pictures from my fellow students. Check (leader) Diana's blog for several pictures, including a group picture.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

ホーリンとしゅっぱつ (Ho-Ling and Departure)

「帰ってくるよもちろん- だってここにはまだ謎がー あいつの大好きなミステリー がまだまだいっぱい残ってる。だから大丈夫、きっと必ず帰ってくる。いつかまた逢えるその日まで、サヨナラ」
『金田一少年の事件簿:金田一少年の決死行 』

"Of course he will come back Because there are still enigmas here... Still so many mysteries left that he likes so much That´s why it's all right, he will absolutely without a doubt return. Until that day we can meet again, goodbye"
"The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Desparate Run of Young Kindaichi"

(Yes, I will be writing in English occasionally for the non Dutch speaking readers)

It's been a long wait, but I'll be finally leaving for Tokyo. The Korean rocket has already been launched and as no all-out Japanese-Korean war resulted from it, I guess the flight should be a normal one. Not counting the off-chance that portable game consoles do emit pilot killer rays or airplane bathroom locked room murders might actually happen.

The first few days in Tokyo we'll mostly be busy with the alien registration and other essential procedures. Like earthquake safety training. Regular classes will begin after a couple of days, so we have a bit of time to get used to Tokyo. And to earthquakes. And if I am to believe Japanese detective series, and who am I to doubt them, I should get a murder encounter ratio of at least one a day and double in the weekends in Tokyo, so knowing words like estimated time of demise, locked room murder and the ever-important 'I'm innocent!' in Japanese will be useful, I think.

Thus ends this last message written in the Netherlands (in English though) and I bid you all goodbye, till the day we meet again. Time for departure!


Yotsubato! , Dai 47 Wa: Yotsuba to shuppatsu
Yotsuba and!, Chapter 47: Yotsuba and departure

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Murder is Announced

Klaar met het college-werk in Nederland en het is nu alleen maar de waiting game spelen voordat we maandag vertrekken naar Japan. Misschien moet ik eens beginnen met kijken wat ik moet meenemen. En nog moet kopen.

En om nog eventjes door te bouwen op het onderwerp van vliegtuigen, ik hoorde dat onze vlucht geen tv-schermen voor elke passagier aanbiedt, dus het wordt een lange, lange vlucht. Gelukkig kan je je altijd wel vermaken met (leedvermaak met) mede-Piloten en gewoon games spelen.

M'n DS gaat in elk geval wel mee :3