Sunday, October 28, 2007

Friday 26th October: Old & Middle Guard Advance Continues...

This evening at Kodama went on for longer than anticipated and was full of incident and variety.

The first thing that greeted us on entering the mahjong parlour was the site of Noda's Mask. Noda had a cold and spent much of the evening coughing and spluttering like an old drain. However, like the upstanding Son of Nippon that he is, he kept his hooter firmly swaddled behind a surgical mask. Ask a Japanese fellow what his ears are for and he will invariably reply that they are there for the purpose of securing the elastic strings of a surgical mask.

Noda being Noda, he had brought along his own supply of medicine, in the form of a hip flask full of whisky. By the time the hip flask had been half emptied Noda had several times regaled us with the dubious story of how it came to be that a golf course had eighteen holes. The first Caledonian ancestors of that noble game set off with their clubs and their balls and a flask of scotch. After every player had got his ball in a hole the games reverend primogenitors would ceremoniously swig a slug of scotch from the cap of the said flask. After each had potted his ball in the eighteenth hole and had taken his swig the flask was discovered to be empty and so they called it a day and that is how it came to be that a golf course has eighteen holes.

That Noda was amply supplied with medicinal refreshment was no obstacle to his ordering several glasses of Japanese spirits from Mama san, and then switching to beer by way of light refreshment later on in the evening. Several beers. In fact, it was Noda's extended drinking binge that caused us to squeeze an extra game into the end of the evening, and wrung the final change of fortune from the table.

Noda's binge also carried David along in its slipstream, and after the third game left Jaime feeling in more expansive mood he too joined the merry crew.

We were pushed into the front corner of the parlour tonight as a couple of the other tables were out of order. When you come to think about how much punishment the tables suffer it is amazing that they last as long as they do.

David arrived shortly after Noda and was busy polishing off his yakimeshi setto when Jaime and Tim arrived. The main topic of conversation in the first game was the fall of Nova, the biggest private language school in Japan which declared bankruptcy earlier today...

Anyway, our first game saw David get clobbered with Double Ron and then witnessed a Jaime Chombo. Despite David's setback he finished the only winner of the first game, with Tim on second place with zero participation (except to remove the spare Yakitori tessera from his side of the table) and therefore zero points.

In the second game Noda went on a whisky induced charge and Jaime got clobbered with Double Ron and sank as David managed to stay out of trouble and above the line.

On -77 after just two games, Jaime was eager to change the seating arrangement. He moved into Noda's seat, Noda occuppied the seat vacated by Tim and David moved over to Jaime's seat. Hide joined us and took the seat that David left.
The question was whether or not the luck would move with Noda. It certainly appeared to have moved as Jaime was hit for 24,000 points when David went out on the first hand of the third game. However, a few hands later, while David was still Oya, Noda threw the Haku (White Dragon) and Jaime declared on Kokushimusou. That single result marked a turnaround in fortunes as Jaime now proceeded to win hands off Noda and Hide while David took some flak but remained largely undamaged. Jaime halved his deficit and David moved ahead into the lead.

The luck had definitely shifted back to Jaime's seat as he seemed to win hand after hand and went on a run that took him to just one point off the lead as David began to shed his gains while Noda weathered the storm and then forged ahead at half Jaime's rate - which was just enough progress for Noda to steal back into first place again. Mind you, at some point Jaime managed a second Chombo for the evening, another false Riichi declaration...

The third game saw Noda once more back in command with Jaime busy on storm-weathering duties while David hit negative territory for the first time and Hide continued to sink.

At some stage during the sinking of the Hide (aka Grouchy's retreat), his lady-wife entered the parlour with her comely companion who David regaled with an account of his recent trip to Huis Ten Bosch by way of an innocent chat-up line. It proved no more successful than his recent attempt to win the ladies' favour by offering them an oration on Ruben's portrayal of the female nude.

So it goes.

It was at this stage that we assumed the evening had come to a conclusion as Noda had declared it to be the last game, but Noda had been busy ordering beer, and David too, and they had become engaged in a discussion about whether or not the dropping of the atom bomb had favourably affected the odds of Noda being born.

I can't quite remember what triggered that line of conversation, but I do remember Noda making a reference to being born with the bomb or out of the bomb or something. His father was somewhere near Nishi Hiroshima at the time of the bombing and headed back up the line to his relations' house well outside of town. His mother was in the Mitsubishi factory down near the port and was hit in the back by flying glass. She had to swim one of the rivers to get out of town. I mentioned that some of my students who are A-bomb survivors are quite willing to talk about their experiences, but Noda said that was not the case with his mother. I remember Noda's mother as a cheerful old soul who enjoyed playing mahjong and would chuckle to herself as she completed her hands at my expense at one of Noda's parties.

Then Noda turned around and ordered another beer and David followed suit as Noda said he could fit in another game and nobody objected. Noda was comfortably in the cups and in the lead. Jaime was in cheerful mood as he had turned a major disaster into a minor victory. David was mellow and merry and on minus three not bothered either way. Hide was well down and eager to redeem his fortune.

Now, as Kenyon was not present tonight to stage one of his very common "last game revivals" there was no tellings what would happen. As it turned out, David found some last resources of energy and inspiration with which to cobble together a series of winning hands and conclude the last game as the only winner on +53, taking 35 of those points off Jaime, just enough to cause him to drop into negative territory for the evening!

One other eventuality worthy of note is that David was the starting Oya in every game this evening.

The result was that the Middle and Old Guard maintained their advance, the Middle Guard breaking new ground on the Grand Accumulated Points Chart, and the Old Guard quickening the pace of its advance as if to catch the Middle Guard if it can. Meanwhile, Grouchy's retreat continues and places him a long way to the rear on the said Table. Napoleon recovered from his recent bout of indigestion and took over the running of the middle of the battle, but was waylaid again by the gripes in the last game. Marshall Ney was not seen all evening.

Noda -7, +53, -44, +26, +46, -2 = +72
David +26, +5, +18, -31, -21, +53 = +50
Jaime -19,* -58, +46,* +58, +5, -35 = -3
Hide --, --, -20, -53, -30, -16 = -119

* Chombo

David Hurley

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday 19th October: Middle and Old Guard Advance!

Suffering from indigestion during a crucial portion of the afternoon of 18th June 1815, the Upstart Emperor of the French removed himself from the field of battle to seek relief by lying down in a barn. I don't know if Jaime spent the evening lying down in a barn but nevertheless, he was not on the field of battle during the operations that I now propose to relate.

Kenyon, the Marshal Ney of tonight's operations, sent his cavalry galloping forward on two successful charges before being hit by enfilading fire. He had gained the top of the ridge (+57,000 points) but, unable to reign-in, he fell into a sunken road and suffered many losses (26,000 points to David in one hand of the third game was just the beginning of his woes) and was ignominiously run through by a yakitori pikestaff.

The Grouchy of the evening, Hide, scored a notable victory (Wavre, +40,000 points) that proved to be hollow as he was a late-starter who failed to march to the sound of the guns and found himself thereafter in constant retreat.

Seeing Ney's cavalry flailing around and getting into increasingly dire straits, and with Ney himself proclaiming,
"Je ne have any freakin' idee pas que je dois freakin' faire",
the Middle Guard under the command of Davide took the initiative began to advance over the sodden ground and gained the heights in one swift operation (+90,000 points).

Earlier in the engagement Davide had been unhorsed when his mount tumbled into the mire down Chombo Lane. Remarkably, a similar mishap had delayed Colonel Noda, commander of the Old Guard, from getting underway. However, once the Middle Guard had secured the upper ground the Old Guard began to move forward to stabilize the line (+78,000 points) as marshall Ney's forces gallopped down the hill in full retreat.

Once Ney had reached the very bottom he managed to rally his troops and mount a final charge as evening gave way to night (+48,000 points).

David -35,* -18, +90, -2, -3, +1 = +33
Noda -3, -1,* -20, -5, +78, -21 = +28
Kenyon +38, +19, -70,** -33, -14, +43 = -17
Hide --, --, --, +40, -61, -23 = -44

* Chombo

David Hurley

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Friday 12th September: David Steps on the Funky Gibbon Escalator!

Jaime was the starting Oya in the first game and opened the scoring by taking 12,000 points off David in the first hand and 13,000 off Noda in the second, however, those two players then took the next two hands and ended up in the black. The second game progressed in a similar fashion, with Jaime winning the first hand and fading thereafter.

Hidé, as cheerful as ever, turned up in time for the third game so we drew tiles and changed the seating arrangement. David moved into Noda's seat, Noda to Jaime's and Jaime to the empty chair, so Hidé parked himself in the seat that David had vacated.

The third game started off in similar fashion to the first two. It was augmented by David's attempt to teach Noda
The Funky Gibbon. I'm not sure that the players on the other tables appreciated it very much, but a solid rendition of The Funky Gibbon beats the catawailings of enka any day of the week.

Do, do, do, the funky gibbon - funky gibbon!
We are here to show you how - oo-oo-oo!
Ooh, ooh, ooh, the funky gibbon - funky gibbon!
Just like you, so come on do the funky gibbon now!

Remarkably, the Funky Gibbon and the booze seemed rather to stimulate David's play than to prejudice it tonight. His gibbon continued to funk and his game continued to function. All David had to try and do was not screw up. He did screw up once, when he said "
Ron" on Jaime's 2-Bamboo discard, which, Jaime - whose hand was Tempai - was quick to point out, had already been discarded by David. Since David had not turned over his hand no Chombo was extracted and David sheepishly went out with Tsumo on a 2-5-8-Bamboo wait a couple of tiles later.

Another outrageous hand was David's 5-Coin and 1-Characters two-head
Riichi declaration during a conversation with Noda about the words "funky" and "gibbon". Noda was busy with his electronic dictionary (presumably not the one that he lost in China) and came up with "coward" as a definition of "funky". David noticed that his Riichi was not one of his better attempts since the other two 1-Character tiles had been discarded, one each by Hidé and Jaime. While David was laughing with Noda about his "bakarashii riichi" he picked up the 5-Coins that he needed to go out. Hidé had been holding on to the fourth, so it was the only tile available for David to go out on.

Another hand, another hit. This time, Hidé threw the 6-Bamboo and David, still
Oya declared on a hidden Chinitsu which cost Hidé 24,000 points plus extras. A couple of hands later, just five tiles had been discarded when Noda threw a South tile and this time Hidé declared "Ron" and revealed Kokushimusou - a shiver ran down David's spine because his hand was Tempai and he would have thrown any tile but the one he needed as he was feeling lucky. Hidé had wanted precisely that to happen, so yes, David was lucky - lucky to relinquish the Oya without having lost any loot to Hidé.

At some stage during the third game Hidé's Mrs showed up with a chum and it seemed that they were eager to head off to a party, which fell in with everybody else's plans to end the evening relatively early. David stayed resolutely subdued while the ladies were present tonight.

In the fourth and final game David made another
Oya stand in the East round and then escaped lightly from as the penultimate South Oya by handing a modest 2,000 points to Hidé. Somehow or other Jaime ended up with an empty tray, owed David 20,000 points and had his Yakitori stuck on the table. Noda and Hide were both modestly down on the evening, David the only winner.

David +30, +31, +62, +77 = +200
Hide --, --, -24, +6 = -18
Noda +7, 0, -16, -13 = -22
Jaime -37, -31, -22, -70,* = -160

* Yakitori

David Hurley


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Monday 8th October: Health & Sports Day Mahjong

In 1966 a national Health and Sports Day holiday was established on 10th October to commemorate the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. Then, in 2,000, several national holidays were moved to Monday to give the working masses several three-day weekends to enjoy during the course of the year. So now Health and Sports Day is fixed on the second Monday of October.

So this year's holiday fell on Monday 8th October. I celebrated with a healthy and athletic game of mahjong which began at four in the afternoon and went on until ten-thirty in the evening, so we played for about two and a half hours longer than usual and fitted four games into the session.

It was not a one-man-show this time. However, the senior doctor still ended up top, with David second-and-in-the-black, Dr M jr third and in the red, and Mrs M bringing up the rear.

Mrs M started brightly, taking the winning tile of Dr M sr in the first hand.

The perception was that David was doing well as his side of the table was quite active, but it was only in the third game, which he won outright, that his score moved into positive territory.
At one stage Dr M jr's tray was empty. Dr M sr won the final game to claim the top spot.

So that covers the sporting side of the day. Now a word about health.

Our snacks were supplemented by some healthy rice balls - I chose the salmon-stuffed rice ball, and the "nori" seeweed wrapper is also very good for the health, so I hear. The sandwiches were very good, packed with meat, vegetables and egg. Peanuts were consumed for energy and the palate refreshed with cheese and biscuits.

Despite playing for an extra two hours (very good stamina training), David only went through about six beers.

Thus we were able to do our bit for both the healthy and the sporty side of Health and Sports Day, to our mutual satisfaction.

David Hurley

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Sunday 6th September: Lesser Panda Love Affair

Went on a trip to the zoo today. Asa Zoo is a fairly mouldy sort of zoo near Hiroshima.

Little E somehow knew that there were "ressapanda" there and after we had had our fill of the fighing apes and the pitiful "frog exhibition" little E went marching down the road with the zoo map in her hand to search them out.

These "ressapanda" were obviously the main attraction at the zoo, and rather like bread in a supermarket, they were located at back. At every fork in the road there was a sign letting us know which way we had to go to find the ressapanda. We didn't get to them until after lunch, which was a good thing as we got there just in time for "ressapanda no oyatsu", or "lesser pandas' afternoon snack".

Your lesser panda has all the requirements for Japanese kawaii - cute face, bushy tale, nice colouring and as brute beasts go a modicum of intelligence. The latter characteristic enables it to do "cute" things like open doors, stand on its hind legs and look appealing, and take slices of apple out of the zookeeper's hand.

Whereas many of the other animals at Asa Zoo look a bit on the mangy side and contemplate their confinement with a world-weary lassitude, the red pandas were in excellent condition and full of beans.

While the other four lesser pandas were content to clamber up the zoo-keeper's trousers to get their slice of apple, one stayed further back and stood up to recieve her share. There was a case of a famous red-panda called Futa-kun who wowed the visitors at Chiba Zoo a couple of years ago with his ability to stand on his hind legs. It seems that he may have a rival.

David Hurley

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Friday 5th September: Hide & Yuri Return for a Lecture on Rubens

Noda dominated the first half of the evening. Kenyon was relieved to be sat on his left and therefore out of the games in which Noda presided as Oya. Kenyon's approach seemed more cautious than usual. Here we have a photo of how he responded to Jaime's Double Riichi declaration as Oya. In the three-player game the North tile is almost always played as a bonus tile, like a season or flower tile that is an optional extra in the standard game. Here, seeing that nothing else was safe, Kenyon tossed first one, then a another and then a third Pei in a row, to our amusement. (I think Jaime also adopted the policy later in the evening.)

For the first time in a while Hide called to say that he'd be joining us. Noda was top dog and Jaime had come second when Hide arrived, so Jaime dropped out of the next game - when there are five players, we either play with all-in and rotate around the table, or the second-placed player drops out of the next game to let the fifth player in.

David was the first player to finish the game and was quite happy to loll in his chair and relax, so when Hide came second, David happily volunteered to sit out and let him keep playing as it had been so long since we'd had the pleasure of his company at the table (er, and also because David was quite relieved to be only on -1 in the wake of Noda's charge).

Noda left without collecting his winnings. David had intended to leave when Noda did, but didn't. It would have been better if he had. He sank from -1 to -58 while Jaime took over the late night running which also sank Hide and Kenyon, if I remember rightly. After recording the scores on the GAR Table, I mislaid the score-sheet...

Something else I have vague memories of is the arrival of Hide's lady who looked different somehow. David volunteered to suggest that the secret lay in the hairstyle, but it wasn't that. Perhaps it was a change of fashion? No, not that either. New glasses? No. Yuri-san was perhaps rather peeved at having to point the fact out directly herself that she had lost weight.

This comment acted like a trigger in David's sozzled brain, or like a red rag to the proverbial bull. It caused him not to praise her as he ought to have done for her new sylph-like figure, but rather to deplore the loss of another voluptous beauty to the relentless regimes of diet and exercise. Sober decorum gave way to inebriated candour as he warmed to his theme and freely expatiated upon how partial he was to Peter Paul Rubens, whose paintings are noteworthy for their epicurean
joie-de-vivre and unabashedly voluptuous sensuality.

The episode was but the last brief whimper of a debauched appetite. David was played out. Hide and Yuri departed the scene - would we ever see them again, I wondered?

The three who remained played one more game, which, of course, was won by Kenyon, and so the evening closed with Jaime up, Kenyon down much less than he had been and David down quite a bit more.

What was most remarkable about the last game was Kenyon's assertion that he tends to win early and lose late in the evening. David and Jaime's impression is that although Kenyon's early fortunes may vary, he is often the one who comes through in the late games - as indeed happened tonight! The controversy will only be resolved if somebody does the statistical analysis, and the only person likely to do that is Kenyon!

The results were something like this on the now missing score-sheet:

Noda back in the black.
Jaime closes the gap.
Kenyon down two places in the red.
David hanging on to top spot by his finger-nails.
Hide back but sinking.

The results mean that it is now very close at the top of the table, just a few points separate David from Jaime and Noda...

David Hurley

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Friday 22nd September: Kenyon Surges & David Fades

Noda-san was away on business in China getting his bag stolen at a trade show.

In the early part of the evening we were joined by Tim and Don and thoroughly distracted by the football talk and the fall out at Chelsea, Don's team. Don professes not to be interested in football at the moment! At the mahjong table, David racked up both a
Chombo and a Yakitori in a single game (the second) and finished on -71. Jaime managed to stay in the black, but the big winner of that game was Kenyon, the player who gets least distracted by the ambient chatter!

The third game added a few more points to Kenyon's score, but then there was a different winner in the fourth (David), fifth (Jaime) and sixth (Kenyon), with David sinking again and both the other players still in the black. After Jaime's victory he had taken the lead and whittled Kenyon's score down to just +8. But then we played two more games and witnessed Kenyon's late evening rally in action. He also won the last game and ended up the only winner of the evening on a healthy +116, which places him close to Noda in the low double-negatives on the table and one strike away from the black.

Kenyon -19, +66, +34, -46, -24, +42 +66 = +116
Jaime +21, +5, -24, -14, +66, -25, -61 = -32
David -2, -71,* -10, +60, -39, -17, -5 = -84

Chombo AND Yakitori

David Hurley


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September 18th & 19th: A Trip to Nagasaki-ken; Day 4 - Kamigoto Islands

The view from the road, Kashimagashima.

The port of Sasebo is four stops up the line from Huis Ten Bosch. We took the hydrofoil from there across to Kamigoto, the main northern island group of the Goto island archipelago.

We hired a car and spent the late afternoon and the next morning driving around (sometimes round in circles thanks to the on-board navigation system) looking at several little churches that dot the island in far greater profusion than just about anywhere else in rural Japan. There were many "hidden Christians" who practised their religion in secret on the Goto islands, but when the ban on Christianity was lifted Roman Catholicism returned to the islands. Today most of the Christians on the islands are Roman Catholic and the "Karure Kurishichan" sub-culture is almost forgotten.

A lot of the churches were recently built using modern materials, but there are several older churches which were built in the early twentieth century of wood, brick and, in one case, of stone.

Our first trip was to a small island called Kashiragashima, which is linked to the main island by a red iron bridge. Kashimagashima Church is the one church that is made of stone. It is a small building with a low tower over the central portico that is capped by a small dome. It was completed in 1919, the eighth year of the Taisho era and is located in a beautifully tranquil setting.

The doors of the church were open but we did not go inside as couple of elderly ladies were chanting.

It was a beautiful evening, sunny still, but with the cresent moon had risen and hung above the cross that topped the tower of the church.

The church was just a few yards from the sea, and further down the lane, right by the little rock-strewn sandy beach, there there is a Christian cemetery that overlooks the sea.

Christian cemetery, Kashimagashima.


After reluctantly leaving Kashiragashima we travelled west to look at another church, which was shut, and then went in search of a good restaurant. Not much seemed to be available so we drove back to our hotel, only to discover that what we had thought was just the hotel breakfast room turned out to be one of the best izakaya on the island! The fish was fantastic - we had the plumpest, freshest Japanese mackeral (sanma) that I've ever seen.

Next morning, we visited a couple more churches.

Happily, they were both open.

The first was a brick church on a hill which overlooked a small fishing harbour.

The second, our last siteseeing destination of the trip, was a small wooden church with a brick portico and tower at the "west" end and a small wooden porch giving access from the "south" (at least from the point of view of church architecture - the shadows cast by the morning sun suggest that the church is aligned with the altar to the west).

Kakure Kurishitan - Patrick Downes
Otaiya: Japan's Hidden Christians - DVD of Christal Whelan's documentary film of the Hidden Christians of the Goto Islands.

David Hurley

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

September 17th: A Trip to Nagasaki-ken; Day 3 - Huis Ten Bosch

The scene and the pace changed today. So far, I had not done much that I would not have done in my travels as a bachelor. Today was different. I would never have PAID GOOD MULA to visit a FAKE Dutch settlement in Japan. No, not me; I, Miss Quested like, wanted "to see the 'real' Japan", forgetting that faking it is as real as it gets in Japan and that therefore the best way to see the real Japan is to try seeing Japanese holiday-makers enjoying themselves in a fake environment. Once you drop your sniffy Anglo-Saxon conceit you will realize that your concern for the "genuine" is as fake and self-deluding as the Japanese penchant for the "fake" is genuine and self-knowing.

If in the west some are given to faking it until they make it, in Japan it is more a case of making a good fake of it and then charging good mula for the mugs to come and admire it. Nowadays, that includes coach-loads of Korean tourists who for some reason best known to themselves go ga-ga over the place, while the Chinese are already champing at the bit and massing at the gates eager for their share of genuine Japanese fakery.

Today was to be the day, I supposed, when little E would have a whale of a time and I would trudge along as miserable as sin, faking joy and merriment at the various tiresome and endlessly tedious sights and sounds, to say nothing of the asinine comments that would no doubt assail my senses. I should be like a fish out of water, like Faithful at Vanity Fair or the Israelites carried captive into a strange land. I had expected Huis Ten Bosch to be something like a Dutch version of Disneyland, not that I have ever been, or ever intend to go, to Disneyland despite the clamours which have already started to be heard from a certain direction. Paternal indulgence has its limits, its Lutheran moment of making a stand and doing no other and all that. A line has been drawn in the sand; Huis Ten Bosch stands on one side of line, Disneyland on the other.
Huis Ten Bosch. ANA Hotel is in the middle distance.

Not everything is fake at Huis Ten Bosch. The hot spring bath at the ANA hotel (modelled on the Amsterdam station building) is apparently "the only natural hot spring spa in the Huis Ten Bosch area" and very good it is too. We were staying at the hotel for two nights so no matter how dire the day would be, at least there was the cheering prospect of bracketing the suffering with a good hot soak in the soothing natural waters of Kotono-yu.

Kotono-yu, ANA Hotel, Huis Ten Bosch

The day turned out to be quite pleasant; I would even go so far as to suggest that it had been rather enjoyable. We were not barracked at by fellows with loud-hailers, we did not have to queue up for hours on end and pay extortionate fees to enter the various exhibitions and shows - they are all covered by the day ticket. Shop and cafe prices seemed much the same as elsewhere in Japan.

The boat trip around the canal circuit was pleasantly diverting and I was told on more than one occasion that it was not like being in Japan at all, but "just like Holland", especially when we were facing away from the very un-Dutch Japanese mountains (see pic below).

The lift to the top of the tower is worth the effort of pushing the button. It was while we were up the tower that the one case of "being barracked at" occurred. We had the misfortune of being at the top of the tower when the lift doors opened and a platoon of Korean tourists disgorged itself upon us accompanied by the Urlaub-Feuhrer who gave them good barracking at the top of her voice without ever needing to pause and draw breath.

Nobody could jib at the evening entertainment, a beer terrace complete with a (fake) Bavarian band.
A pseudo-Bavarian band in action at Huis Ten Bosch.

The lady wife had a bit too much to drink on the beer terrace, and the results are all too plain to see in her photographic efforts. The photo on the left, for example, shows the main subject illuminated in the background, cunningly given some perspective by the artful insertion of a chair in the left foreground.

The final verdict? If you have a family to entertain, then Huis Ten Bosch is an excellent choice for a holiday! Plenty to keep people entertained, a pleasant and actually quite tranquil environment, despite the crowds. We might well go back for more fake fun next year!

David Hurley

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

September 16th: A Trip to Nagasaki; Day 2 - Sightseeing in Nagasaki

first destination was at the site of the twenty-six catholic martyrs who were crucified on a hill in Nagasaki 410 years ago after Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan, outlawed Christianity and closed Japan to the outside world.

When Japan began to open up again in the middle of the 19th century the ban on Christianity was lifted. It transpired that for the intervening three centuries a form of Christianity had been secretly preserved by communities of "hidden Christians" without priests or books.

We were to encounter evidence of that Christian heritage at various points during our holiday in Nagasaki prefecture, including at our fourth stop on today's busy itinerary.

Just over the road from the memorial site is the Church of the Twenty Six Japanese Martyrs is notable for its concrete structure and pair of outlandish towers.

A few minutes walk from the martyrs hill you come to some steps that lead up to our second destination, a temple called Fukusai-ji. The temple building is designed to resemble a huge turtle. On the back of the turtle there is an 18m-tall statue of Kannon-sama, Goddess of Mercy. You can see her peeping over the roof of the house at the top of the steps that H&E had climbed ahead of me on our stroll to the temple.

The original temple was built in 1628 and destroyed by the A-bomb in 1945. It was rebuilt in 1979. Inside you will find
the longest example of Foucault's pendulum in Japan, and the third longest in the world. Foucault's pendulum was made famous by Umberto Eco's novel, Il Pendolo di Foucault. I bought the first Italian edition while living in Imola in 1988-89. Back in England in the summer of '89 I thought it prudent to purchase "The Complete Guide to Foucault's Pendulum" and took both books, along with the first Folio Society edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with me when I moved to Rome that autumn. I read Gibbon, but Il Pendolo di Foucault and its English language guide langished unread on my book shelf and currently lie neglected in a box in mother's attic; reading Il Pendolo di Foucault in Italian has become one of my "back burner projects"! Perhaps now that I have seen the eponymous device in action I might perhaps make a point of reading the book.

Mind you, I didn't think we would be able to see the pendulum in action as the wire was motionless when we first saw it inside the temple. The wire is suspended from the top of the inside of the hollow Kannon statue down through the main temple building and into the basement, where the bob swings over a compass plate. We found the basement steps and went down but the door was locked, so that seemed to be that. However, when we came back up we were greeted by the woman who runs the temple.

"Herro! Key! You take!"

So back down we went with the lady right behind us. She promptly took the key back off me and opened up the basement, jabbering away all the time in a mixture of Japanese and Japlish-inspired pidgin English which was all part of a practised patter. She took a hook off the wall and used it to set the pendulum in motion.

Foucault's pendulum in full swing

Fixed to the compass plate by two metal arms that extend from the cente there is a metal contraption that looks like a metal comb which has been bent into a quarter circle, with its teeth pointing upwards. The "comb" swivels round so that you can line it up with the pendulum swing. The rotation of the earth gradually causes the axis of the pendulum swing to shift and the needle on the bottom of the bog eventually strikes the first tooth of the comb, knocking it over with a metallic "tock" - for the teeth are attached to the base of the comb by hinges. Gradually the pendulum shifts around and knocks each of the teeth down one by one.

That, at least, is the idea. However, when the pendulum appeared somewhat tardy in getting around to knocking over the first pin our guide said that perhaps she had not set it up properly because of her poor eyesite brought on by her advancing years (or "
rougan" as the Japanese call it). She then gave the pin a nudge with her finger, knocking it over before the pendulum had got to it; that meant that there would be an even greater interval before the pendulum could shift far enough to knock the second pin down... We never did see the pendulum knock a pin down because we were ushered out of the basement and back upstairs for a guided tour of the temple. We had no choice in this matter.

"Hey!-You!-Look here!... Chinese furniture! All Chinese furniture... You think only decoration... No!" We were now standing in front of an elaborate Chinese furnishing of doubtful function and antiquity. Suddenly the old girl pulled a large decorative knob and opened a "secret draw"

"Hey!-Open door! Here Japanese soldier thousands dead ashes!"

"Open door! Here atom bomb dead ashes!"

We were force-marched outside and had to bash the peace bell with a log suspended before it on a couple of chains - but we couldn't bash it any-old-how; the bashing thereof was accompanied by strict enjoinders as to where to place our feet and what posture to adopt. Next we had to splash some water over a statue and then inspect the carp pool. The old bird gave Little E some fish pellets to throw at the fish, and headed off with another couple of tourists to demonstrate the debilitating effect of "
rougan" on the smooth running of Foucault's pendulum.

We moved on to our
third destination, Glover Garden, on Minamiyamate hill and offering a fine view of Nagasaki harbor. Our arrival at the former Mitsubishi second dock house presented Little E with a second chance to feed carp in a single morning!
The former Mitsubishi second dock house, Minamiyamate, Nagasaki.

The view of Nagasaki harber from the upper balcony of the former Mitsubishi second dock house.

The wife and daughter indulged in a bit of dressing up in period costume. Then we headed down the hill to the house that Glover built - the first wooden house built in western style in Japan.

Glover was a British trader, a sort of 19th century merchant adventurer who set up shop in Nagasaki in 1859, founded what was to become Mitsubishi, helped to establish Kirin beer brewery, introduced steam trains and mechanized coal mines to Japan and ran guns for the enemies of the Tokugawa shogunate. He commissioned warships for the new Meiji government, but had gone bankrupt by the time it came to power in 1868. However, he was awarded a consolation prize, that of being the first foreign devil to receive Japan's Order of the Rising Sun. It must have been a fine time to have come to Japan; a combination of immense potential for business development at a time when both people and countryside were unspoilt by the effects of... er, full development of immense business potential...

Just down the road from Glover Garden was our
fourth destination, Oura Church, the oldest church in Japan and the only western-style building in Japan to be designated a "national treasure". The facade of the church faces in the direction of the hill on which the twenty-six martyrs were crucified. It was to the priest of this Oura Church that the "hidden Christians" made themselves known in 1865. Many of the hidden Christians returned to the Roman fold, but others chose to keep alive the traditions, or corruptions, that had grown up in the intervening centuries during which time the faithful had handed down the faith by word of mouth without books or priests.

Once the missals had been destroyed both words and dogmas began to decline from their original purity, and, according to Miyazaki Kentaro,

"although the faith followed by the underground Christians had the outward appearances of Christianity, the vital content and spirit of the religion evolved into something entirely different."

We moved on to our fifth destination, "Spectacles Bridge", so called because the double arches of the bridge and their reflection in the river are said to look like a pair of spectacles. Didn't look much like it to me, probably because the water level was too low.

Spectacles Bridge.

David Hurley

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