My desire to ensure environmental sustainability.

Point blank on environmental issues.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Yosakoi 2

NOTE: If you have not read part 1, you can do so by clicking here 

Preparations
To set the record straight, I have to admit that the event is quite organized, well decorated… actually nothing seems to go on err! That tells you that preparations are done on time; i.e. for the performing groups and the organizers. There were over 200 hundred performing groups in this year (2015), from within and without Kochi. Notably, various institutions and companies; private and public, commercial and non-commercial ones, sponsor the performing groups. Thus, most of the groups bear the names of institutions or companies that sponsor them. Indeed, this is one of the best CSR activities, among other benefits that accrue.

The real task comes during the practice time, where some groups start a couple of months before the event, while others a few months to. My group practiced for about one and half (1.5) months; every day for 2 hours except for days off. That was one of the most challenging and engaging moments in life, because of various reasons. The obvious reason is my background; I was born and bred in Africa, a continent known for vigor and energy in music performances; uniquely, movement of virtually all the body parts at ago! Then, here comes Yosakoi, where I need to be a bit calm, and accurately coordinate all the body parts, in a specific position, hold the Naruko in the required way and alignment. Make sure the Naruko shakes at the required time; poor you if you are out of order. Actually, Naruko was an extra burden because I am used to dancing without any instrument on my hand.
My group members

Language was definitely another issue; talk of the song, instructions and interactions- all in Japanese! Although my Japanese was not that bad, I had to depend on my Japanese partners in front and beside me during instruction time. It was funny though, because sometimes it could backfire, when all of them were doing something different; who the hell is doing the right thing? Fortunate enough, the continuous practice did me good, and for sure, I did make it…yaay!
The performances are held in different parts of the city (Kochi), thus necessity for early preparations. This is a time you will see an erection of temporary structures along streets, open spaces, and even halls. Even some major roads and streets are barricaded for Yosakoi purposes; it is party time! All these places are equipped with all safety measures, lighting systems, observation points and decorations that paint the face of a true Yosakoi mood.

Notably, every group have to work on their own sound system, which is normally a truck loaded with all the necessary equipment. The sound system is part and parcel of the convoy during performances in any of locations.

My group's sound system


Festival day
On the Yosakoi eve, there are normally fireworks held to switch on the real festive mood. However, the fireworks may be done after Yosakoi, depending on weather conditions, especially rain. Thankfully, this year’s weather was quite favorable, enabling a 2-hour non-stop fireworks at the Kagami Kawa (river) of Kochi City. That was probably the longest and most interesting fireworks I have ever seen; just sit on the riverbank at night, be drinking some beer and taking snacks as you watch the amazing fireworks explode above you complemented by their beautiful reflection in the Kagami Kawa waters. That is how Yosakoi times gradually role in. 
The fireworks was real fun
video

"Niagara falls" fireworks at Kagami Kawa

The presentation days (four in total) are marked with colorful streets, and ever-busy operations and movements. Talking of colour color, I am referring to both people (tourists from within and without Japan) and decorations. People really travel from far and wide just to witness how Yosakoi goes down. The presenting groups line up, just to ensure organization and time management. The truck carrying the sound system is always in front, with the announcer (MC) introducing the Group Name, their dance song among other things. The announcers are mostly men with deep voices, shouting at their highest volume, accompanied with excitements! This was probably the first time I saw a Japanese perform and talk vigorously one-on-one. Mostly, I see this on Japanese TV shows and movies. A “Hai” voice signals the start of the dance…come on, let us do this! This is the time to shake it off, igniting the Samurai and the real “ganbarimasyou” spirit.

Most of the songs are about 3-4 minutes, but the dances are done repetitively- meaning replays of the song. This is because some of the distances to be covered are so long. I remember my group dancing for over 30-minutes non-stop from one end to the other! I Cannot forget to mention that sometimes two groups perform simultaneously, or they start immediately behind you. Woe unto you or your group if the sound system in weak because you will be out of order! Glad that my group had one of the best sound systems.

My group in Action


 Mind you, it is summer. You can imagine the sweating rates and fatigue; you got to be strong on this. Actually one of my friends referred to this as literally “swimming in your clothes!” The sweating and fatigue notwithstanding, the audience is always awesome cheering you to the end. They are always lined on both sides of the streets, maybe sited or standing, leaving the performances to astound them. There is no good feeling as to when you realize that someone is enjoying what you are doing; that keeps you moving and pushing on to the end. Some of the audiences even try to “fan at you” (if there is such a phrase) just to cool you down. きもちがいいね (it is such a nice feeling).  

Rival groups in action
(notice the various costumes)
















Prizes
My two medals 
There are various prizes won during the Yosakoi festival, but I would like to emphasize on MEDALS! There are judge benches in all the performance, areas. The work of the judges is to identify best dancers, to whom the medals are given. One can collect as many medals as possible; the better your moves are, so are your chances to collect medals. It is actually a bad feeling if one fails to collect a medal in all the 3-4 days of performance! 私は二つメダルとった (I won two medals). One of the medals that I won is called はなメダル (flower medal), and it is said to be the best of all medals in Yosakoi! Glad this happened to me…



The Real Feel
My case was even unique, because I was the only African (not really sure) and maybe the first ever Kenyan to dance Yosakoi…yaay! So, most the times faces could be turning at me- not only the audience but including the media…but do I say! “Sugoi” “Sugoi” were vocabularies of the day. Actually, I promised the media people that I want to teach Yosakoi moves back in Kenya; off course Kenyans need to know about Naruko and the “Monk in Love!”

Yosakoi Interview by Asahi NewsPaper



Yosakoi Interview by Kochi NewsPaper

Indeed, the participation in Yosakoi was a great happening to me. I may not participate in the subsequent ones but I will be always be heads high, spirit burning, and proudly saying “よさこいできった” (I made it in Yosakoi)!

Special Mention
Takeuchi san: This is an awesome person, who made it happen for me. God bless you abundantly. You can visit his company website, Takeuchi Rebuilt, if in need of second-hand cars, and spare parts (will add URL soon)

Jia san: Thank you for always driving back and forth the practicing venue. Enough respect.

Kochi Toyota: The sponsor for my group. May your boundaries expand even more.

Mwangi san: This is the guy that was to dance in my position at Yosakoi. Unfortunately, he has two left legs, meaning he cannot dance…haha! Thanks for the nomination man; always a brother!


Kochi Toyota no Nishiyama Group: My group name; you guys were awesome! Though the teachers were a bit strict (きびしいですね!). Miss you all!

Source Credit: 
Japan Monthly Web Magazine (2011). Awa Odori (Awa Dance Festival) & Yosakoi (Yosakoi Festival). Online (http://japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp/en/1106_awaodori.html)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Yosakoi 1

Yosakoi is a famous summer festival celebrated in Kochi Prefecture, Japan. The festival is really, well decorated, engaging, entertaining, and mind blowing. Although it runs for about four (4) days, I think for tourists, especially those interested in learning and participating in new cultures, it might seem too short for you. I am saying this out of experience, because I had a chance to participate in the “62nd Yosakoi Festival!” Let us go through it together.

Yosakoi dancers in action (notice the middle guy- me)


Origin
It is important to note that Yosakoi is now celebrated all over Japan, and some other parts of the world as well. However, the real Yosakoi festival had humble beginnings in 1954 in Kochi Prefecture, Japan. Kochi Prefecture is located in Western Japan and is one of the four prefectures that constitute Shikoku Island (fourth largest Island in Japan). All the performances are based on the official festival song, “Yosakoi” accompanied with the shaking of “Naruko.” The words “Yosakoi” and “Naruko” greatly identify with the culture of the people of Kochi Prefecture (formerly Tosa Land).

According to most people, that I have interacted with, the word “Yosakoi,” has various interpretations but I will go by a more reliable source. There is this famous folk song in Kochi called “Yosakoi.” The song talks of a monk in love! As it is mostly known, monks rarely emphasize on romantic issues because their time is fully dedicated to meditation, prayers, and off course, they live in seclusion. Shockingly, here comes a unique case of a monk who could not take it any more for a woman that he had loved. So, he had to look for a way of expressing his love for her. He resorted to buying a hair ornament for her at the Harimaya Bashi Bridge in Kochi City, as suggested in the song lyrics: “Tosa no Kochi no Harimaya-bashi de, bo-san kanzashi kau wo mita. Yosakoi, Yosakoi” (At the Harimaya Bridge in Tosa in Kochi, I saw a monk buying a hair ornament. Yosakoi, Yosakoi). Actually, the word “Yosakoi” means “come at night.” One’s (or at least my) interpretation could be the monk used to meet his love at night. It is said that this song was so popular in Kochi, that it might be one of the reasons why the Yosakoi festival was started.

The Harimaya Bashi in Kochi City
(Where the monk was spotted buying a hair ornament)

The second word, “Naruko,” has its meaning attached to the major economic activity of the Kochi people- farming! Loosely translated to English as “clappers,” Naruko were used to scare away birds that tried to invade rice fields. Indeed, the Naruko sound is so loud and can easily perform that function! They are a pair made of wood, and the design is quite handy for easy grasping and shaking. Naruko are no longer used in rice fields, but rather as one of the instruments in the Yosakoi festival!  
Naruko

Therefore, my opinion could be that the Kochi people started the Yosakoi festival, just as a reminder and/or symbol of their culture, economic practices, and history. Indeed, the festival has lived testify this, and seems to grow stronger as time goes by.

Costumes and Performance Songs
Although, of late, there have been much modifications to the costumes and performance songs, there still a touch of the real Yosakoi features in them. For instance, the songs include music varieties of Samba, Rock, Pop, Enka (popular Japanese songs), as well as traditional ones. However, all the songs include some part of the official festival song, “Naruko Yosakoi Dance.” For instance, words like Yosakoi, Harimaya Bashi and Yochoreyo are heard in virtually all the songs, no matter the type.
The same thing has happened to the costume, where groups dress in relation to the music type. For instance, a group dancing Samba is better suited a Samba (Brazilian) costume, and the criterion applies to all others. Notably, most of the groups prefer the original scarecrow-like costumes, something that drives as back to the major economic activity in Kochi- scarecrows were used to scare away birds and other animals that tried to invade to farms and rice fields. As they are no longer used in farming, incorporation into Yosakoi better reminds the Kochi where they have come from.

My group's Costume
(notice the scarecrow featutres)


I think the only thing that is used in both daily life and Yosakoi festival are the shoes! I love mine, and hope to carry them home. 

NOTE: This is just the beginning of more sweet things to come; please come back for "Yosakoi Part 2," where I will talk about preparations, presentations, the real feeling among other things. See you soon!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Bye Summer, See You Soon

Hey summer,
Otsukare sama deshita,
It was nice meeting you,
I grew up meeting your relations every year,
But you seemed a unique one,
Making me doubt if I have ever experienced summer.  

Summer, I hate you!
I felt sickly,
Because of you,
I lost appetite,
Because of you,
Missed my favorite dish,
Eating less every day,
But summer,
Did you have to do that?

My passion to hate you is even stronger,
As you seemed not to care,
Hitting with a double tragedy,
Of rooftop temperatures and boiling point humidity,
These accelerated sweating and fatigue,
Even without participation in a league,
The impact was evident on the head through the leg.

Summer, I am not yet done with you,
So please chew your born alone,
Do you remember that towel?
That I carried throughout the day?
The AC usage bill?
Moulds in my room?
Sleeping in my birthday suit?
I hate to remember this!

But summer,
I love you at the same level,
Thank you for the cicadas,
I fell in love with their sounds,
Could have made a 1001 tunes from them,
But too bad I lack the ability!

The vacation was too good to end,
Festivals all over,
Invitations to parties and barbecues,
To meet and make new friends,
Those fireworks,
Ample time for site seeing,
I mean it was fun all through.

Although the complements are not enough,
They made us enjoy and laugh,
Even when the moments were tough,
It touched the real nerve,
That is why I want to send this dove,
All the way with much love,
With the words well drawn in a curve,
Saying “Bye Summer, See you soon.”

Thursday, 6 August 2015

All Ways

I heard of it always,
Carried it all ways,
Even across the railways,
Never to know what it was.

My sister could send me,
Running at my best,
All the way to the shop,
To bring it for her.

I remember carrying it,
Just without a wrapping,
Cause I didn’t know the meaning,
It was indeed funny.

Now fully grown,
The child days gone,
Seeing my sister in the beautiful gown,
Makes me mourn.

The stuff did her good,
It boosted her mood,
And made her tame,
All that shame.

With it she could manage the broom,
With it she won’t lock her room,
With it she could groom,
Complementing the flower bloom.

Our poor girls can’t afford it,
It has made them flee,
Wish it were given for free,
Cause the situation is shaming.

Those girls need pads,
Those mothers need them too,
Let them be comfortable,
And I know it is possible!


Friday, 24 July 2015

This is Japan 2

Transport system and general infrastructure

Talk of transport infrastructure; the highways/superhighways, railway lines, sub-ways, monorails, airports, and ports (water). The locations in which they are built and the design itself, indeed, make none doubt the ingenuity of engineering in the world. Note that over 50% of Japan’s land is mountainous; meaning that putting up structures such as transport facilities is quite an uphill. However, the engineers did something that most of us (or at least me) finds breathtaking and worth an appreciation; instead of revolving around the mountains to find their way, the dug through them and constructed the road and railway tunnels. Additionally, Japan has a channel of islands and accessibility is only possible through bridges that have to run for several kilometers connect the islands; that chapter was closed long ago! I know that such structures exist in other parts of the world, and this confirms that science (engineering) is a real deal.
Two-way road tunnels

   
Akashi Kaikyo bridge (longest suspended bridge
in the world)
Image Courtesy: Japan Guide.com


Notably, it will take you lots of time (if not forever) to get yourself to a destination, were it not for Google maps or other location devices. This is because the network of these infrastructural systems, especially in cities like Tokyo, is quite confusing, to an extent that such location devices are your best friends; otherwise you will just make rounds in one place or find yourself at downtown instead of the CBD! One of my friends made a joke out this; that it is only in Japan where you have to use Google maps even from your workplace back home (no offence).  Owing to this infrastructural level, you can rarely experience cases of traffic jam or even accidents; in your country, how many hours do you spend on the road going to the work place or getting back home?
Tokyo sub-way map (this is why I got lost in Shinjuku!)
Image Courtesy: Tokyo Metro
There are various means of transport in Japan ranging from buses, taxis, trams, electric trains, and bullet trains or shinkansen. Although all these means exhibit a great incorporation of technology, the shinkansen caught most of my attention. By the way, I just accomplished that dream of riding in a shinkansen, though the time was too short; not short because of the closeness of my destination but rather the high speed of the bullet train! All in all, I enjoyed the ride- ever comfortable, soothing, and fulfilling. Essentially, the technological ingenuity displayed in Japan’s means of transport, especially the shinkansen and the upcoming MAGLEV Train, talks much about the possibility attaining the unthinkable.  

Shinkansen arriving at Shin-Osaka 
In addition, there are range skyscrapers that create a magnificent view of city skylines in Japan. For instance, The Tokyo Tower and The Tokyo Sky Tree (the world’s tallest tower) are places to visits if you want the real experience of the panoramic view of the Tokyo skyline. The ingenuous skills used to build the Japanese castles are also amazing. These castles, wholesomely constructed of wood and a few metals, were used in ancient times as hideouts during war and as residential places for kings (emperors). Existing in virtually every prefecture, they are now among the top tourist attractions in Japan.     
Himejijo in Hyogo Prefecture
(UNESCO World Heritage site);
purely made of wood and very few metals!

Kochi castle in
Kochi Prefecture
                

Horyuji Temple (Oldest wooden structure in Japan
  and a UNESCO World Heritage Site)


Food

I remember in the first few weeks of my stay in Japan, I used to upload pictures of various Japanese foods on my social media accounts, and for sure, some of my friends found it scary (better still, not appetizing at all); those comments said it all! Well, I have to admit that I sailed in the same boat with such people for a while; it was my first time to eat such foods except for Japanese green tea and sushi, which I had already tasted at the Japanese Embassy in Kenya! I have been dining on a table full of various sea delicacies; talk of seaweeds, various types of fish (including raw ones, called shashimi), mollusks like bivalves, shrimp, and octopus. Actually, the sea is Japan’s garden. I was only used to terrestrial and river/lake delicacies; that can tell you how strange it was for me in the first few days.

Sushi

Shrimp and oyster

Partially grilled/raw fish (katsuo no tataki)

Rice is the staple food in Japan, and can be eaten together with various assortments of food like chicken, beef, fish, or vegetables. However, I have to admit that it is very difficult for a vegetarian to survive in Japan, owing to the little variety of vegetables around here; that only reminds me of managu, kunde, sukuma wiki, murenda in back in Kenya. I once tried to use the Japanese corn flour to make some ugali (Kenya’s staple food-しゅしょく), but I did not like the results! Still in search of an online shop, that has the real maize flour! All these notwithstanding, I have come to develop a liking for Japanese cuisines and will soon be offering a detailed look into most of them.    

Weather

Japan has virtually all forms of weather conditions that you might think of! Some things like typhoons, earthquakes/tsunami, and extreme seasons of the year, were just high school Geography theory until I came in Japan. I am here for the real life experience. Talking of seasons, I have already experienced the full cycle, and the comparison with my country (Kenya) is far off! Whereas Kenya’s seasons are a bit mild, one can readily recognize the changes in weather patterns in Japan’s seasons. This is the first time (初めて) I am experiencing such extreme conditions; new lows and highs of temperature, rainfall and humidity.
To survive the winter, one has to, obviously, invest in heavy wear because the cold is too threatening-the snow literally rains (falls), driving temperatures to negative figures. I remember one of my friends saying “hii baridi inachoma” (Swahili for “this cold is burning”). Please keep warm all the time to avoid catching a cold, or other scary ailments like frostbite and other respiratory diseases. Following winter is a rainy spring during which temperatures are gradually increasing, prompting you to abandon some of the heavy wear. The only problem with spring is the inconvenience caused, especially for those people whose major means of transport is a motorbike or bicycle-time to invest in a raincoat and keep an umbrella as your best companion! Summer is the total contrast of winter. I always thought that the main feature defining summer is high temperature but I was forced to add one more to my list- humidity. The humidity levels in Japan can be so high during summer, to extents that you sweat even at a still position- walking out of the bathroom, sweat is still part of you! Thanks goodness that the Japanese (actually most Asians), have less sweat glands, especially the apocrine glands that are responsible for body odor- too much biology in there!  As for people from other continents, who have a combination of both sweat glands (eccrine and appocrine- still, biology), a deodorant and face towel is a worthy accompaniment. In the living room or any other meeting place, woe unto you, if you have no access to an air conditioner, or fan. As for autumn, the season is a bit calm, preparing you for the winter. Despite these extremes in all the seasons, various festivals accompanying each of them makes days count so fast all through the year.
Further, on Japanese weather, typhoons are a regular occurrence, where you expect the strong winds and heavy rains to cause quite some disturbance. Talk of floods that can wash away property or even people, and winds pushing down enormous materials. Additionally, earthquakes and or tsunami rarely occur, but be sure to witness havoc in case of any. A combination of these natural disasters among others like heat strokes, really cause anxiety. However, the most amazing thing is that, you can always be out of danger if you are an attentive and alert person all the time. This is because there are always early warnings, evacuations centers, standby help desks or hotlines, and most importantly, regular disaster drills; actually, this makes Japan one of the best countries in the globe when it comes to disaster preparedness. みなさんきおすけます(please keep attention all the time and take care).

Education system    

I am not fully conversant on the Japanese education, but what I know is that Japanese is the major language of instruction. Other languages like English are taught as subjects, and no much interest is given to them. You had better start working on your survival Japanese lessons if you want to have a better life here! The schooling system starts from elementary- junior high- senior high, and then university. The university system, especially the undergraduate, is quite similar to what I went through- a lot of course work followed by some tests. On the other hand, the graduate schools are more of research oriented where there is too little course, if at all there is. A graduate student will spend most of the time in the laboratory conducting experiments and others (like me), will be out in the field to collect data. The rest of the time, one will spend it on trying to analyze the data and write a report, things which are sometimes a bit challenging because of the low course content in graduate school (note: personal observation). However, as much as there some weaknesses, I will have to say that the concentration on research work has granted Japan it is rightful position of a home of technological innovations, inventions, and groundbreaking discoveries.

Religion    

Buddhism and Shinto are the major religions in Japan, with the rest such as Christianity and Islam, accounting for negligible percentages. These two religions (Buddhism and Shinto) have existed in Japan for centuries, and they have a great connection and identification with both culture and traditions. Be sure to find temples and shrines in the proximity of any natural forest, because these religions greatly identify with nature- another reason for high forest cover in Japan! Actually, there is no clear difference between the two religions because one can identify with either of them. Buddhism arrived in Japan from China, and was incorporated with the indigenous Shinto religion. I may not dwell much on the philosophical and or the theological aspects, but what I can say is that, it is spiritually challenging to live in such a society where Christianity accounts for less than 2% of the 127 million. One of the famous missionaries, Francis Xavier greatly attested to this, on his Japanese spiritual journey, something that even succeeding missionaries are facing.  Chances are that, you leave Japan either as an exhausted or strong than ever before. My prayer is to achieve the latter. 
Entrance gate (torii) into a Japanese shrine.



Conclusion

This experience is indeed, quite humbling, adventurous and full of surprises all through. I have come to learn that being developed does not necessarily mean doing away with your culture and traditions, but rather integrating them in the process. That, ingenious ways of doing things and technological innovations are quickly interrupting those saying NO to ideal situations. Notably, culture shock real and the recovery from it depends on how ready you are to learn, make friends, and discover the particular region and its people; mindset! Specifically, the most valuable lesson I have learnt so far is that, we, the people can for sure live to love, help, respect, and serve each other irrespective of race, gender, class, region, or religion. I am still in the process of discovery and the journey of sharing my experiences and thoughts about Japan has just begun. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

This is Japan 1

It is almost a year since I came to Japan, and I have to admit that life has not been easy, going by the huddles that I had to (and still) overcoming. The culture shock has been real- food, culture, tradition, development level…daily life! It felt like each country belonged to its own sphere, except the sharing of great phrases that mention the mystery of the sun; that, Nairobi (Kenya’s Capital) is a “Green City in the sun,” and Japan is “the Land of the rising sun.” My symbolic correlation between these two wordings is that, just as one can view the sun piercing through the peaks of Mount Kenya from Nairobi, so can someone view the sun illuminating snowy Mount Fuji (san) from Tokyo’s amazing skylines. This article details my firsthand experience of Japan, owing to many days of exposure, travel, research and participation in various Japanese events. 

The Japanese language

Though I loved the Japanese language from the word go, I really had (have) a hell of time to understanding and applying it. This is not only due to its newness to me, but also the fact they use three different writing systems that have specific uses; 1) Hiragana (ひらがな) for pronunciation purposes, 2)Katana (カタカナ) for foreign words, and 3)Kanji (感字) for explaining the meaning of words. Here I was, only used to the roman alphabets, now daring to immerse myself into learning the writing and reading of just characters (not letters anymore). In ranking, I think hiragana is easy for me because it is more of curved images that one can easily identify with, but katana (for foreign words just like me, a foreigner) is an uphill task- seems like trying to join sticks together and later on explain what that means (no offence)! However, I have to say that this is what makes the learning even more interesting. I will not talk much about kanji because even up to now I can count the number of those that I know out of the possible thousands that there are; maybe…Japan (日本), river (), mountain (), person (), tree ()…other are still loading! The most amazing thing about kanji is that the physical appearance relates to whatever they mean, just as some of the above directly display. I am used to saying a “kanji ga wakarimasen” (I don’t know kanji) joke in the Japanese class, but I hope by the time I leave Japan I will proudly say “Kanji ga wakarimasu” (I know kanji). これから毎日頑張っています(I will try to learn kanji everyday). I am happy that my Japanese capability is gradually improving! God speed, they say!

The people, culture and tradition

A Japanese is a very mysterious friend! They are great friends when you are with them or need them- great talk, help at whatever cost, company, feeling the laughter and happiness. The mystery comes in that, in the following day or encounter, you may need to start from square but be sure, that all will end up well; the bond has to be re-formed everyday!  
I have not been to most parts of the world, but going by the knowledge accumulated, I can confidently say that the humility and kindness of the Japanese people ranks quite high. This is despite a few shortcomings that are overwhelmed by the positive side. I remember one case in particular when I first came to Japan. It was in Tokyo, Shinjuku (one of the busiest railway stations in Japan, and most probably the whole world), and I got confused on how to change to the next train (they call it “norikae” in Japanese). Though the day was not fully of people as other business days, because it was on a Sunday afternoon, it was a challenge for me, a guest in town. Worse of all, I was not good in Japanese by then; just “sumimasen” (excuse me) and “watashi wa” (I am)…just imagine; double tragedy! My statement was: “sumimasen, watashi wa…mmmh…lost!” Thank God they guy was quick to get what I meant and humbly, left what he was doing, and showed me the way! It was even more worrying when I relocated from Tokyo to a rather countryside place, where Japanese is a must- know but I always experience the “Shinjuku guy kindness” everyday. As much, as such cases are a norm in other parts of the world, getting a person ready to help and serve indiscriminately (i.e. irrespective of race, class, age, or gender) is quite rare.
Despite Japan’s developed level (among the top three largest world economies), her culture and tradition has remained mostly intact. This is evidential in virtually every place that you visit; be it in the office, school, home, shop, vehicle, or even on the lanes. Although I am now used to some of them, I initially found it funny or somewhat weird. Actually, I am yet to find the right inclination angle of the “Japanese bow.” The bow requires one to bend on certain degrees depending on the partners involved (mostly, in order of seniority), and it takes quite a bit long to finish; actually, a certain professor on Japanese business manner told us the bow takes about 3 seconds.  So, the procedure goes: approach each other but keep some distance (I guess this is to avoid collision during bowing), introduce yourselves (you can also exchange business cards if available), and then bow (NOTE: no physical contact). To me, it was more of an exercise rather than a greeting because I am used to the handshake, which sometimes gets vigorous in away releasing the tension in oneself. It is good that now, I can confidently bow, no matter how imperfect it is.
I know punctuality is a culture that should cut across every nation or region, but Japan has my gold medal on that; be in the meeting place at least five minutes before, and that happens! Another example is at the train station; there is a fixed schedule, and if the train gets late by even two (2) minutes, an apology follows automatically!
It is quite impressive that Japan has not allowed dilution of its culture and tradition, despite having an influx of visitors with a diversity of them (tradition and culture). A perfect implementation of the Romans’ principle; “When you get to Japan, do as the Japanese do it!” It is unfortunate that most countries have fallen victim of easily succumbing to cultural and traditional manipulations, leading to loss of identity and belongingness. I wish we could borrow a leaf!
Daily life in Japan is quite busy- every time of the day is just rush hour to an extent of missing time for oneself. All the time is preoccupied with work assignments, business objectives, and other activities revolving around work. This is the same case to my country too, but the people have time to shake it off- forget about any problem or stress that you have and give in to what your heart needs! Somewhere in Africa, one will go for the party, sing, drink and shout the hell out of them, while freely dancing; my friend in Ghana will go Azonto, my broda in Nigeria dey go Skelewu or Sekem, and South Africans will get on their knees vigorously shaking to Zulu tunes. As for my fellow countrymen from East Africa (Kenya, to be specific), they will find their way to the Carnivore Restaurant for the Tribal Nights-Ramogi, Mulembe, Kamba, Kalenjin, Esagasaga, Coast- and rejuvenate the youthfulness in them. As for Japanese, they like keeping it calm and that is how they like it!

Waste management, sanitation and the general environment

As highlighted in an earlier blog post, waste management in Japan follows an organized system characterized with a lot of discipline, dedication, and adherence to the rules and regulations. Most of the companies that collect waste are privately owned, but have a close relationship with local governments with whom they sign contracts of offering the services. One’s work is just to ensure the specified garbage is put in the designated area early in the morning in readiness for collection. Arguably, it is common sense that waste should not be disposed anyhow, but rather follow the systematic flow. However, this is not the case to some us; do you know where you left that bottle of water? What about the polythene paper that had your shopping? And those food wrappings? No idea until you find them washed into your house by floodwaters or creating unsightly conditions on the roadside (better still, talk of poorly managed dumping sites)! On the other hand, that little discipline makes Japan to be one of the cleanest countries in the world.
The waste management discipline in Japan closely interlinks with sanitation levels; off course, the better the waste disposal system, the lesser the pollution. This confirms why rivers and streams passing through Japanese cities are ever clean; amazing! By the way, did you know that water in every running tap in Japan is safe for drinking; no doubt! Tapped water follows strict government regulations that ensure zero contamination and high health standards. Therefore, you rather refill your PET bottle with tapped water rather than (wasting) money in the shop for a new package. Generally, my ranking of the Japanese sanitation levels is quite higher and most countries will need more than average efforts to get there.
Despite having a little endowment to natural resources, Japan has ensured the maximum utilization, conservation and management of the little that they have. Notably, it is one of the most forested countries in the world, with the current forestry cover standing at 67% (note: my residence prefecture- Kochi, 高知県- has 84% forest cover). This is indeed, amazing and at the same time challenging at such a time when most countries have not even attained the minimal global requirement of 10% forest cover. Although the reasons for such a high forest cover, are high dependency on imported wood, cultural/religious practices, and the fact that they do not depend on wood as the major source of energy, their forestry practices are worth an appreciation. The beauty of the Japanese environment is also enhanced by the presence of forest parks, botanical gardens, and beatification projects along roads, cities, and institutions. Indeed, this makes travelling around Japan quite entertaining, breathtaking and therapeutic. Additionally, the presence of various seasons (winter, spring, summer, and autumn), creates a magical mystery in nature. The cold snowy summer slowly ushers in the cherry blossoming spring, then summer full of gorgeous beaches for sunbathing and surfing, and lastly, autumn that naturally creates a variety of colorful sceneries on the tree canopies; just give up on oneself and surrender to the natural way!     
NOTE: Please come back for "This is Japan 2," to know more about the Japanese food, transport and infrastructure among other things :) 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Orientation


I think I love orientation,
One that is out to give direction,
One that is out to give motivation,
One that is out to culture inspiration.

But I think I am confused,
Because I realized,
That my friend “came out,”
Making me doubt,
If I love orientation.

I heard him praise his partner,
Just like she praised hers,
Wow! What a relationship,
That might have started in a sailing ship.

I seriously need to know the other party,
And I hope I am not getting naughty,
Because I am curious to have a find,
Another treat for the mind.

But the know served me worse,
Is it really the one he was?
With the priceless looks she wears?
I don’t think anyone cares.

With that orientation,
I am left in imagination,
May be waiting for consolation,
Better still a solution.












Here Comes Easter

It was approaching the end of lent,
When Jesus and His disciples had paid rent,
In preparation for the last supper,
I hear the room was upper.
As they went to pray at Gethsemane,
Judas had already gone for money,
And the soldiers were many,
It was indeed time for the son of man.
Then they went to Pilate,
And the fear for being late,
Denied them time congratulate,
But ample one to humiliate.
Jesus had to carry the cross,
He had to go across,
With enemies so close,
But had nothing to lose.
 
Our Lord died painfully,
Washing our sins carefully,
Then He rose silently,
As the world celebrated calmly.
 
As we celebrate the Easter,
Let us take that E-star,
To all those who do not have,
Just to make sure we serve.




Monday, 22 June 2015

In the Name of my DAD

In the name of my Dad,
I will thank the Lord,
For the taking off the load,
That disturbed me through the bumpy road.

In the name of my Dad,
I will uphold morals,
For that is what he insisted, 
Thank God my mother assisted.

In the name of my Dad,
I will support education projects, 
For he made me realize the meaning of knowledge, 
Fees paid on time to rejuvenate courage.

In the name of my Dad
I won’t go for job selection,
Because he does his with passion,
Driving him into exhaustion.

In the name of my Dad,
I will take our family to the national park,
Because he took me to Uhuru park,
Only then my dream could spark.

In the name of my Dad,
I will foster unity in the family,
Something he held firmly,
Always correcting us calmly.

In the name of my Dad,
I want to be generous,
For living alone is dangerous,
Worse still disastrous.

In the name of my Dad,
I will build a mansion,
To save on his pension,
There he will live with no tension.

In the name of my Dad,
I promise to be a dad,
For he has been a great dad,
A role model indeed.