October 29, 2011

Walking My Turtle

In Tsukishima, a man takes his turtle out for a walk.

The large turtle is 16 years old; the smaller one is a different species of turtle and is 8 years old.

The large turtle was a surprisingly fast mover and required a lot of watching. At any given moment, he would threaten to walk into a wall.

After the devastating fiasco in Ohio, a neighbor questioned whether it was appropriate for him to live in a house in Tokyo, but the owner defended himself by saying that he had a large pen to walk around in.

October 26, 2011

Taisho-era Kokugo Textbooks

Once again digging into my grandmother's bounty: a Taisho-era Japanese-language (kokugo) textbook, first published in 1918. (She bought a reissued version later, although I don't know if that means 1940 or 1960.)

By the way, schoolchildren learned to read in katakana first, not hiragana as is the practice today.

A very didactic version of the famous Saru-Kani Gassen (The Crab and the Monkey) that stresses the "eye for an eye" philosophy. 

In the last page of the story, the monkey, who has had red-hot chestnuts thrown at him, runs to sit in a bucket of water. However, a bee stings him, and the monkey is forced to run away. Then, a pail jumps on top of him and pins him down. Then, the baby crab (whose mother has been killed by the monkey) cuts his head off. 

Another version of the textbook is devoted to moral lessons or rules/teachings.

All the lessons are written on the first page, and the rest of the book consists of a drawing that describes the message. For example, "3. Don't be lazy.", "7. Be careful with food.", "8. Honor your parents' teachings.", "16. Your Imperial Majesty.", "23. Do not harm living creatures." 

I'm a bit confused by the drawing on the upper left, which looks like a monkey cooking another monkey over a fire while a baby clings to him. My grandmother says the monkey has been strung up, and the baby is trying to free him.

An English Notebook and Report Card from 1943

My grandmother's old English notebook, from circa 1943.

The "Excellent"s turn to "Very Good"s when she gets a new English teacher.

What's slightly unnerving is that the high level of English. Was education better then? 

A bonus: a report card from 1941, when she was 15 years old. 

Despite her claim that no-one was urging her to study, she got great marks in the main subjects. Hilariously, her one bad grade was a 30 in home economics.

October 19, 2011

The 1950's Songbook

From the early 1950s: a lyric booklet that features excerpts of pop song lyrics. Once again, my grandmother's. 

She still remembers these songs, word for word. When I expressed surprise that a Japanese person who only learned English in school (in the early 1940s, no less!) could sing so smoothly, she scoffed. "It's not that unusual."

She couldn't sing "La Mer" in French, though.

Aside from the table of contents, in which the song titles were written in both English and Japanese, the only thing that lets you know that this was published in Japan is the "yen" currency denoted in the left corner.

October 15, 2011

Science Class in 1942

Apparently, my grandmother spent a significant amount of time trying to find something in her apartment last week. She succeeded, but unearthed some other long-lost items as well. This is her old Science notebook from around 1943, when she was 17 years old.

What's immediately striking is that the content of Science classes doesn't seem to have changed much; I remember learning the exact same thing (basic plant biology) in junior high. But this was before glossy textbooks with color photographs and handouts -- if you wanted to retain anything, you had to write it all down.

What's different is the use of katakana mixed with kanji. Today, we use katakana to write a word that is derived from a foreign language, but in her day, they were used in the way hiragana is today.

The illustrations contain hints of color, which suggests a certain playfulness. After all, this is the girl that drew this picture in class.

Seeing the notebooks, my grandmother remarked, "I did fairly well in school, but I was never at the top of my class. But no-one was telling us to study hard. It would have been trouble if we decided we wanted to go to university."

October 11, 2011

A Schoolgirl Doodles During Class in 1942

My grandmother was 16 years old in 1942, and attending jogakko, the equivalent of secondary school for girls at the time. She can tell you tales of propping chalkboard erasers on top of the classroom door so they would fall on the teacher, and the elaborate methods she would devise so the teacher would not catch her doodling in class -- stories that would not sound out of place today. Schoolgirls are eternal.

A couple of said doodles: 

These weren't original drawings, but painstakingly drawn imitations of popular illustrations, done in pencil and sumi ink.

 (Click to enlarge.)

An illustration of Madame Butterfly (notice the butterfly-print kimono). My grandmother would go on to become a calligraphy teacher -- an art that requires you to observe and copy from the best, then go on and make it your own. To see such a playful form of self-expression (and evidence of other talent) coming from her was a pleasant surprise.

October 8, 2011

Wearing Bones and an Oil Slick

 (On the train.)

When paired with the Adidas with the leopard-print piping and turquoise panels AND bone-laden shoelaces, the black-and-silver oil slick leggings look downright demure.

October 4, 2011

Everyone Has a Story (Including Turtles)

In front of a monja restaurant in Tsukishima's Monja Dori, a tiny little turtle on display for passersby to see. Apparently, he had been found abandoned in front of the restaurant, all covered in grime.

 The owner of the restaurant named him Mi-chan, because he's green (=midori in Japanese). People in the neighborhood donated the contents of his tank (which explains the randomness), and he's become a mascot of sorts.

And in a practically fairy tale-like twist, he's become famous for dancing to bon odori (a kind of folk dance) songs. The owner of the restaurant will very happily tell anyone who stops to admire the turtle, "Wait until his favorite song comes on! He'll do a dance!" I couldn't wait around that long, but he was bobbing his head back and forth to the music. Perhaps we're seeing the midpoint of a future rags to riches situation?

October 2, 2011

The Good Town of Awa-amatsu

Awa-amatsu on the Boso Peninsula, one train stop away from the surfer haven Awa-kamogawa.

It looks like any other sleepy beachside town, but it is apparently considered one of the less well-off towns in the Peninsula, deflated as the fishing business died down.

This sign at the beach spells out the situation for you:
1. Protect our youth from deliquency.
2. Do not inhale substances such as paint thinner.
3. Do not walk alone at night.

Sparklers at the (noticeably littered) beach.

The town's pretty little junior high school. They must have had some funds left over.

Monkey sign on the mountain road. The stationmaster at Awa-amatsu advised against walking in the woods, but I couldn't figure out if this was because of the animals or the paint-huffers.

Followed a shallow river downstream.

 Freshwater crab!

 A bone from an unidentifiable creature. This was definitely spooky.