26 May 2008

Talking trash

We're officially on our way out of Japan. The last few days have been completely chaotic. I've had to do the sorting of what to keep (everything), what to discard (ultra heavy winter wear, things I haven't used in over a year, size... er.. X-4... jeans), what's sentimental (Aditi's school craftwork), what's not (greeting cards and other senti stuff)... and also answer questions like "why are my toys in that big bag over there instead of in my toy cupboard? Don't my toys have a visa to go to India?"

The sorting is still the easy part I say. It's discarding that's painful. First thing I did was to donate clothes that are in good shape to charity. Whlie we're at that, let me tel you, finding a charity here is next to impossible. I asked around if anyone was collecting stuff for earthquake or cyclone relief for China or Burma. Answer was 'Cash only, please." The Red Cross asked who would pay to ship the stuff to these places. But thankfully, one friend here asked if I could give stuff to an orphanage. I was more than happy to.

Then we got to discarding. And it's a PAIN in the wrong end. Please do read this article to understand how trash disposal works in Japan.

So there we were, wondering where what went. Does a stone vase count as 'un-recyclable trash', or does it qualify under 'other miscellaneous household goods'? What about that plastic container? Is that PET, recyclable or non-recyclable plactic? Do gumboots qualify under burnable trash or plastic? Why are there so many categories for disposal of footwear? Why didn't I run away and join a real circus instead of being in this one?

So we bagged all our stuff into different categories and got rid of it over a week (each day, we're supposed to take out only a particular kind of trash). Last night, we took out ALL the trashbags and put them in the designated receptacle.

The movers got here this morning. And as they were nearly done, someone rang the bell. He had a bill in his hand, and asked if it was ours. It certainly was, and hadn't we just discarded that with the trash last night? He turned out be someone from the waste removal company who wanted to know why we'd thrown out that much trash? Why had we thrown out the wrong trash for Monday? Hadn't we received the trash calendar from City Hall?

We explained that we were moving... "look, these nice men are taking away all our things," we said. He very reluctantly agreed to let our trash stay in the dustbin. I still can't believe someone rooted through the rubbish to figure out who all that ... er... trash.. belonged to.

Ah well, trash, disposal and recycling is going to be a whole new story once we get to India.

22 May 2008

Netaji's memorial

I remembered reading somewhere, a long time ago, that Netaji's ashes were kept at some temple in Tokyo. Arun and I wanted to visit that place to pay our respects.

Tokyo isn't exactly down the road from this neck of the woods. Last week, once we decided that we couldn't leave Japan without seeing some Sumo (that's another story), we made up our minds that we should see Netaji's memorial too in the same trip.

"Find out where it is," Arun said, "and we'll go there this time."

I tried to do this the easiest way possible. I called the Indian Embassy.

The reply I got there has to be preserved for all posterity. On asking where in Tokyo Netaji's ashes were, I was given this answer:
"You can ask the Japan Tourist office."

That was such an undeniably intelligent answer. I mean, I should have thought of it myself. Think about it, Pt. Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Atal Behari Vajpayee... I'm sure they all decided not to trouble the Embassy and asked the local tourist bureau for directions to get there.

I realised then that I only knew that the ashes were in some temple. And I started Googling for answers. I was lucky enough to get the name of the Renkoji temple on first try.

Next step, I started calling friends who lived in Tokyo. "Hi, where's Renkoji temple? How do I get there?" was always followed by a long pause, and the answer was always "What's that?"

It was back to Google again. This time, Google Maps came to my rescue.

Once we got to Tokyo, we took the Marunouchi Line to the Higashikoenji station, and once there started asking for directions to Renkoji. No one seemed to know where it was. With my Google Map for directions, we got to the general area where it said the temple was, and asked passers by if we were anywhere near the temple. Always to be met with blank looks and apologetic bows. Finally one passerby told us that there was a temple nearby, maybe they could help us find this place.

We walked a few yeards ahead, and saw this really small temple.

The temple itself was closed, and our shouts of "sumimasen" (excuse me please) went unanswered. We ventured into the temple, and there we saw.......
Mission accomplished.

Why are Netaji's ashes consigned to rest in an obscure temple somewhere in the back of beyond of Tokyo? Since the findings of various commissions have been tabled in parliament, and the theory that Netaji did not die in the plane crash in Taiwan has been rejected, and considering the fact that various leaders have over the years paid their respects at this shrine, doesn't this imply that the government believes that Netaji's ashes rest in Renkoji? I'm really curious why these ashes haven't been brought back to India . Don't the ashes of this great son of India deserve to be brought back to the land of his birth? Doesn't this great son deserve a prominent monument in the land of his birth?

In this forgotten little corner of Tokyo, lies this impeccably tended memorial to a great man.

Anyone who's interested may visit the Renkoji temple. The temple's at
Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Wada 3 Chome 30-20
Take the Marunouchi line towards Ogikubo. Get off at Higashikoenji station. Take the exit marked Wada 1-3 Chome. There's the entrance to a little park to the right of the exit. Walk into the park. Continue down the path till you reach a little road. Turn left at the road. Walk about 150 meters, and Renkoji temple is to the right.

Don't bother asking the embassy for directions.

14 May 2008

The Samurai's tale

The Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima, fought between the forces of Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen is considered a tactically interesting battle. So intersting, that in the little town of Yonezawa, they reenact that famous battle every spring. That annual battle seems to get Yonezawa its fifteen minutes in the spotlight. Yonezawa was the stronghold of the Uesugi clan during the Sengoku period of Japanese history.

Last month I got an email from one of the local newsgroups asking for volunteers to participate in this year's enactment of the battle. There was this small unit of about 15 that welcomed 'foreigners' to participate. That sounded very interesting. Why not, I thought, and promptly volunteered all four of us. But the organisers were not allowed to recruit samurai of under high-school age. The kids could not be samurai, and one of us had to drop out too. Guess who lost that toss??

On the big day, we started off early in the morning, and drove to Yonezawa. If I thought I lived in a small town, Yonezawa was... well.... way smaller. Since we'd had a really long drive to get there, we were among the last to arrive, and Arun was rushed into the changing room to get into costume.
And that perplexed the little one totally.
"Amma, why is Appa wearing a silly dress?"
"That's not a dress, baby. Appa is wearing a costume."
"Why is Appa wearing a costume?"
"Because today your Appa is a samurai."

And having satisfied her curiosity to that point we marched off to the battlefield.

And there she saw the armies swear fealty to their respective daimyo, in this case, to Takeda Shingen.
And they're ready to fight. For honour, for glory and all that jazz.
"Amma, why is Appa dressed like Spiderman?"
"No, baby. Appa is dressed like a Samurai."

And then the Uesugi forces start to get into formation.
"Amma, is Appa going to fight with those people."
The questions don't stop, do they.
"Amma, now I know what's happening. Appa is the good Spiderman, those people are bad Spiderman. Now all the good Spiderman uncles are going to scold the bad Spiderman uncles."

Talk about impeccable logic.

And they charge and are engaged in battle.

The forward troops light signal flares, and the troops start to get in formation.

The reserves on the other side of the river see the signal. They ford the river and hit the Uesugi armies from the back.

And battle heats up again.

Much as I hate to say it, I totally missed the climax of the battle. One little kid demanded to be taken to the restroom immediately, and refused to wait till the war was over.

And by the time I got back, the battle was all over, the battlefield littered with the (pretending to be) dead.

Well, when you got to go, you got to go.

I have to admit it was a great day. The battle was beautifully choreographed, and Arun had loads of fun.

But there were some really funny scenes out there. The bulk of the troops were high-school kids. The distribution of the sexes was equal. And it lead to interesting skirmishes. The armies charge. Four school girls meet in the middle of the field. They looked at each other and giggled.
I swear I'm NOT making this up!

After the battle, an old lady came up to Arun and asked to pose for a picture with him. She was so excited and she said, "Last Samurai?? Tom Cruise?" Err... lady.... Hmmm.. never mind. Say cheese.

As the troops went back to change into 21st century clothes, one bunch of Samurai charged a bunch of schoolgirls who were chatting by hte roadside. They squealed (loudly) and then wanted to take pictures.

Here, we see little girls start Samurai training... jut in case some weirdo charges her..

This shot was taken before the battle. It was so totally incongruous.

Did the average samurai warrior have to deal with little girls insisting that they had to be picked up right now? Or have to count how many hugs each kid got?
This one did. So what if he was wearing a Spiderman 'dress'.