Saturday, 29 January 2011

Karaoke Kids!

If you begin to spend a reasonable length of time in Japan it is inevitable that you will at some stage find yourself dragged into a karaoke bar. Believe me, there are many of them and they come in a wide variety of forms. At night the city streets are full of touts eager to usher you into their particular establishment, where a range of soundproof private rooms called ‘karaoke boxes’ await you. Here, for an hourly fee, you and your friends can vocally murder a range of popular songs, many of which were favourites before going in there, but possibly not after. I must confess that in the wee small hours of the night after a feast and a few ales, Jules and I have been coerced into such places. After crossing that threshold there is no turning back, it’s either sink or sing!! Of course when eventually the microphone is slipped into your hand, you are encouraged by three key factors…
1. Most songs are sung in pairs, which ensures shared humiliation.
2. The microphones they give you have the most incredible reverb that can make even the worst of singers sound good!
3. Those in the karaoke box are primed with a steady supply of alcohol throughout the evening.
The last factor is most important as it has the dual effect of making the singer think that they actually sound good, while also making the listener totally unable to differentiate the numerous bum notes. Having now experienced the wonderful world of karaoke, we both agree that it can actually be a fun few hours and certainly a great way to bond with newfound friends. We certainly won’t be taking our singing talents any further, but if you’re tempted to indulge in such musical mayhem there is probably not a better country in the world to give it a try. After all, the Japanese invented it and karaoke still remains one of their most popular national pastimes.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Mysteries of Buddhism

Walking the familiar path back to school at 7.30am in mid January, the air is cold, the light is dull and there are even some small flakes of snow falling from above. It’s in stark contrast to the blazing sun that Jules and I felt as we walked the streets of Adelaide over the New Year period. As I make my way up the hill, breathing steam as I go, I can smell the familiar aroma of incense drifting across from the Buddhist cemetery that I pass everyday. This is a regular occurrence and can happen at any hour as well wishers pay their respects, not with flowers, but with the burning of incense sticks. As I pass the entrance and take a glance, there is no-one to be seen, only the serene outlines of the various Buddha figures that overlook the area. These figures are usually made of granite and come in a range of sizes and forms. What we particularly find amusing is that these figures are often adorned with brightly coloured clothing. Little hats, neckerchiefs, and cloaks are often lovingly made and placed on the figures as if to help them stave off the cold. This was particularly evident recently when we visited the Shitennoji markets, which are held in the grounds of a local Buddhist temple. There, hundreds of little figures (standing no taller than 30cm high) stand as silent sentinels at the entrance looking beautifully attired in a myriad of tiny little outfits. Not being experts on the Buddhist faith, Jules and I remain slightly perplexed by what this all means. This is just one small facet of a religion that increasingly fascinates us both. Even for an outsider looking in, there appears to be an understated calmness that is in stark contrast to the modern metropolitan world. Temples appear in the most unlikely of places and it is not unusual to see a brief cased office worker taking a quiet moment to pay his respects by burning incense and striking the distinctive sounding bell. Recently Jules was advised to buy a ‘temple book’, in which for a small fee, monks will write words of wisdom in beautiful Japanese calligraphic script. This conveniently gives us an excuse to visit more temples to learn a little more about this mysterious and somewhat cryptic religion.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Travellers Back for Christmas

After much anticipation we finally boarded our plane for our first journey back home since leaving the shores of Australia over 20 months ago. Despite only a slight time difference between Japan and home, it takes around 17 hours before we actually touch down in Adelaide on a somewhat uncharacteristically cold and damp summers day. Despite feeling a little tired we are very excited to see both of our families and in particular our son Dave. Much has happened in his life since we left and not having parents to rely upon has certainly seen him mature into a very responsible and confident young man. Also brilliant to catch up with friends, who continue to be so encouraging with their moral support throughout our travels via skype, emails and letters. Christmas Day brings the whole family together, including Jules’ sisters and her mum and dad, who make a special trip from country Victoria to share the special day. It is one of the rare times when we are all together and the occasion also provides an opportunity for us to also mark a number of significant family milestones, including their 50th wedding anniversary and our 30th. We all gradually slip into a relaxed holiday mode over the next few days as temperatures steadily rise, culminating in a stiffling 43 degrees on New Years Eve. A traditional Aussie barbeque seems like the most appropriate way to welcome 2011. Typically, Adelaide tends to shut down over the Christmas / New Year period, but we do have chance to drive around familiar haunts in our little rental car. We have noticed some superficial changes, but it remains essentially the same. Progress tends to work in slow motion in good old Adelaide, which can be both a blessing and a curse. However, we can now see our home town with fresh eyes, which tends to happen when you have been away for a while. Even after living here almost all of our lives, we now feel slightly detached and observe the various happenings somewhat impartially. For the moment we feel out of the loop, but through the wonders of technology, we will continue to keep a watchful eye from afar … after all ‘we still call Australia home’!