A Geek in Japan | 2007 March
Adventures of a geek living in Japan
japan, a geek in japan, kirai, kirainet
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Katana

Katanas are a type of Japanese sword, but nowadays the term is internationally used to talk about all Japanese swords in general. They are considered as the best swords ever created, they have a curved shape and they are many different types and sizes.

Strictly talking a katana has around 70 cm, the longest ones are called tachi and were used by cavalry. The short versions are called wakizashi and kodachi, which are equivalent to our daggers. Samurais where equiped with a katana for the face to face fights and a short wakizashi to kill by surprise without being seen.


This is a katana forged 900 years ago by Sanjo Munechika, and is one of the oldest katanas in the National Museum (Ueno Station at Tokyo

It can be appreciated how dedicated, simple and well done were the Japanese tools on those times while at Europe we had huge and rough swords.

Nowadays katanas are created by some artists, people from the Mukansa clan seem to be the best. Two of the Musakansa family members are Living National Treasures selected by the Japanese Government.

If you wanna by a katana, you can find average katanas at some hidden shops at Asakusa (Tokyo). I took one video inside of one of those shops.

Next, some videos were the sharpness of the katana edge can be appreciated.


At this last video there is a little explanation about how katanas are made.

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Tokyo's Rockabilly Club

Tokyo’s Yoyogi park is one of the most interesting places to walk around on Sundays. There are lots of people from many different urban tribes doing what they like freely. If you are planning to travel to Tokyo, Yoyogi is next to Harajuku station at the Yamanote line.

Next you can watch one video and some pictures of Tokyo’s Rockabilly Club people at Yoyogi.

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Furoshiki – 風呂敷

“Furoshiki” is the name of a traditional wrapping cloth that were used in the old times for cloths and object transport. Nowadays it’s not really used but the Japanese Government is making some campaigns in order to promote its use, in fact “furoshiki” are low-tech reusable multiuse bags that do not fill any space.

Let’s see how “furoshiki” works with some pictures. Try using a tablecloth with square shape.


Put the objects in the center.


Make a knot using two corners.


Another knot using the other two corners.


Pass one of the knots through the hole that is opened at the other one.


Pull hard and you will obtain a handle that will allow you to transport oranges easily.


Picture from the other side.


Now one example with two bottles. Put both bottles ten centimeters from one of the diagonals and with a little gap between them.


Roll using one side.


Roll the other.


Finish rolling.


Pull up both bottles slowly.


Tie the ends creating a handle.


It’s a bag!

Next you have some more methods explained by a picture from the Ministry of Environment.

And this video will give you even more ideas about “furoshiki”.

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Shinkansen crossing Tokyo

Took this picture near Shinagawa station. Shinkansen is the Japanese Bullet Train and has two stations in Tokyo’s downtown.

Shinkansen

The most impressive fact about Japanese Bullet Trains is their frequency and number of lines that are operating. At Tokyo Station you can see “Shinkansen trains” departing to many different places in the country almost every five minutes during the day.

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Danger!

Tsu
Danger! Under construction.

Tsu
Be careful with the door.

Tsu
Tsunamis are dangerous.

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Japanese aesthetic values

Japanese aesthetic ideals are very different from ours but they’ve being influencing the rest of the world since a long time ago. For example, traditional ukiyo-e woodblock prints inspired many european impressionists and expressionists. Even Frank Lloyd Wright was a ukiyo-e’s fan. But not only Ukiyo-e is fascinating occident; geishas, Japanese gardens, literature, poetry (haikus), manganime, bonsais adn so on. What do all this things in common? Why are they liked by many people all around the world?

Did you noticed that when you read japanese literature, when you are walking around a Japanese garden, when you read some haikus or even when you eat good sushi you feel something similar? Too abstract, let’s say that that they are different ways to reach a similar mind state. Is the same as when you watch 10 movies from the same director, even if they are very different they will make feel something similar.

Japanese aesthetic uniformity can be explained understanding two important terms: Wabi-sabi and Iki.

Iki 粋
Iki was born during the Edo period (1603 to 1867) inside the samurai code; it was used to address those who where honorable and valuable. The word started to be used by common people and got the meaning of elegant but without being arrogant or exuberant, Japanese like sobriety. We could say that someone or something is Iki if its original, calmed, exquisite and sophisticated but without being perfect or complicated. We could translate as “chic”.

For example, Audi A8 is Iki but a an off-road car is not iki. Talking about people, a posh is not Iki even if he is elegant, on the other hand a well educated person with carrier that is outstanding not because he has a family with money but because his/here environment stands out him as someone worth.

In the Japanese world Geishas are Iki. They are beautiful, sophisticated but the don’t have the intention to stand out. Japanese architecture is Iki, houses with tatamis are Iki, Haruki Murakami’s novels are Iki, eating sushi is Iki, ukiyo-e is Iki… If we get in contact with any of those we will arrive to a similar mental state.

Iki is a word that is also used nowadays, mainly to describe people. If a japanese tells you that you are Iki, that’s really good, but be careful because the antonym is Yabo/Busui (vulgar, rude, simple).


This is Iki

If you want to learn more about Iki: An Aesthetic of everyday life is the best essay I found on the Internet.

Wabi-sabi 侘び寂び
Wabi-sabi represents the imperfect, the impermanent, the incomplete(From Wikipedia). Wabi-sabi derives from the concept of impermanence and constant flux from Zen Buddhism. Wabi-sabi is also about simplicity, and sobriety like Iki; two values that are very in Japanese culture and can be found everywhere.

For example, a cup of tea that has some cracks is Wabi-sabi, an old sculpture is Wabi-sabi, a ruined castle is Wabi-sabi, an asymmetric glass is Wabi-sabi and so on. In the Japanese world, the Shakuhachi music is Wabi-sabi, ikebana flower arrangement with its asymmetric layouts is Wabi-sabi, the japanese zen gardens with eroded rocks and furrows representing the continuous flux of matters is Wabi-sabi, bonsai art is Wabi-sabi, Haiku poems are Wabi-sabi and also tea ceremony. All these are examples of “imperfect” arts that produce a similar mental state of melancholy and connection with your immediate environment.


A Wabi-sabi garden.

If you are further interested, Wabi and Sabi: the aesthetics of solitude is the best essay I found on the net. There is also one book: Wabi Sabi for artists designers and philosophers. that is pretty good. More links: Wabi Sabi and Web2.0 and Wabi-sabi / Iki related to occident.

Iki and Wabi-sabi have many things in common, both are fundamentals of the nowadays Japaneses aesthetic values and also the way Japanese behave. Finishing, let me ask you something personal, Don’t you have the sensation that when you are experiencing Iki or Wabi-sabi they are trying to communicate us wisdom through silence? When you read a tale, or you watch a Japanese movie usually at the end you ask yourself where the message(the moral of the story) of the film/book was, they don’t tell you straightforward, but the message when directly to your mind. Examples are any manga from Jiro Taniguchi, any book from Murakami or filrms from Kurosawa Akira…

“Be Wabi-sabi, be Iki my friend…”

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Parking lot for dogs

Found these next to a supermarket, so you can park your bicycle and your dog while you shop.

Perros

Next to the place where I took the previous picture I found this billboard: “Do not bath your dog”.

Perros

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Destroyed house in Tokyo only 400.000$

It says “we sell 72.25 square meters land with old house included! South oriented and five minutes walking to the train station. Everything 400.000$”. It’s normal that the land would cost more or less that price, the funny thing is the old crappy house they are using to “attract clients”.

Pictures from Mediatinker.

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