Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Caroline vs. The Guest Cat


After I finished The Little Prince I needed another book to occupy my commutes, so I ducked into Kinokuniya's small Shibuya outpost.  The selection of English novels there is very small, but I was drawn to this short novel because I wanted to check out another Japanese author, and, well, because I love cats.

The Guest Cat is very short, but extremely beautifully put together.  A central theme is how the smallest thing can change one's life forever, and also how ones circumstances can change in an instant.  I'm sure this book will live on my shelf for years, and I'm already looking forward to reading it again.

There were so many beautiful phrases that I loved:
"Having devoted themselves to cats body and soul, they seemed at times utterly indifferent to shame. When I think about it now, rather than my not being a cat lover, it may simply have been that I felt a disconnect with people who were cat lovers. But more than anything, I'd simply never experienced having one around." p.8
"Lie a camera obscura, which transmitted only that which was needed, the house with its breezy interior had a soothing effect on the soul." p.30
"What's interesting about animals, my wife explained, is that even though a cat may be a cat, in the end, each individual has its own character. 'For me, Chibi is a friend with whom I share an understanding, and who just happens to have taken on the form of a cat.'" p.36
"Still in formal black funeral attire, we did the wave as a couple for the first time. But I somehow felt that even this was according to the old lady's wishes. She would always point out to us the importance of being natural, of being ourselves." p.48
"Chibi, who had been coming over to our house every morning and every night for who knows how long and had never let out a sound, now, for the first time, opened her mouth and began expressing herself at great length. The content of her speech – or so my wife reported to me with the utmost seriousness – was not about thanking us for taking care of her all the time but rather, the usual social niceties, chatter about the weather and so on, and all the other insincere politenesses that neighbours often exchange." p.62
"'They weren't meowing together, in a matter-of-fact way. It seemed more like they were intimately discussing their personal lives.' She tilted her head to the side as she spoke, as if not quite believing her own words." p.65
"She bowed politely to me. The way we were talking it sounded more like a human child had died. I wanted to talk some more." p.81
"When the cat stopped coming, it seemed as if the garden had changed into something dreary and drab. How much we see through colored glasses, I thought." p.95
"Funny, these aversions we have for certain things. It does make you wonder a bit whether it's some kind of karmic connection with a past-life experience, even if that's just a bit too weird." p.110
"Even in our neighborhood, we started to notice a growing number of older houses being readied for demolition so that shiny new condominiums could be built in their place." p.118
"There it lay in the darkness – a raw, open space covered by a sheet of pure white." p.132
xx, C.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Caroline vs. UnREAL


A friend of mine recently tweeted an article about a new drama, and after reading it I couldn't wait to dive in.  UnREAL is a behind the scenes look at the fictional dating show Everlasting (cough The Bachelor cough), and how women's studies graduate and feminist Rachel needs to put her integrity aside and manipulate the contestants in her job as producer.  I'd never thought of what it looks like behind the scenes of a reality TV show, even though they are now such a staple part of our television consumption.  I was hooked after just one episode, and was surprised that I loved a Lifetime show so much!  It's clever and thought-provoking, and is the perfect mix of dark comedy and drama.

The first season is almost over, but luckily for us it has been renewed for a second season, which will premiere in 2016.

Have you been watching?  What do you think?

xx, C.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Caroline vs. Sumo

I have a new favourite sport, you guys: sumo wrestling.  I got tickets to the Tokyo Basho (tournament) at the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in May when my family was visiting, and it was an amazing way to spend an afternoon!

Tournaments are held six times a year around Japan: Tokyo in January, May, and September, Osaka in March, Nagoya in July, and Fukuoka in November.  Each tournament lasts 15 days, beginning and ending on a Sunday, and bouts begin as early in the morning as 8:30, and continue until around 6pm.  There are six levels of sum wrestlers, divided based on skill, and the bouts begin in the morning with the lowest-ranked wrestlers, and end with the top-tier wrestlers.  The stands are generally pretty empty for most of the day, and hardcore fans will begin to pack the stadium around 3:30 or 4pm to see the best and most popular wrestlers.

Since you can only re-enter the stadium once, we decided against going first thing in the morning and instead spent a few hours next door at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  Around lunch time we stopped by the food stands set up outside the stadium and picked up some snacks, and then proceeded inside.  None of us knew too much about sumo, other than it is a competition between two enormous men trying to push the other outside the ring; the first one to step outside the ring or to touch the mound with any body part other than the soles of his feet is the loser.  We were surprised at how quickly the bouts would be over - most of them last only a few seconds!  We picked up more of the rules just from watching as the bouts progressed, and were eventually able to rent a radio from the stadium that was broadcasting the NHK English commentary and really helped us understand the intricacies of the sport.

Unlike at any sporting event I'd been to anywhere else, spectators in Japan are generally allowed to bring their own food and drinks in from outside.  Many groups of people arrived at the stadium with full meals they'd prepared at home!  We eventually decided to grab some bento boxes and beers from the concession stands inside the arena, which weren't as expensive as we were expecting, and tasted fantastic!  There were also girls from various Japanese beer companies wearing backpacks holding tiny kegs and running up and down the stairs in the stands selling draft beer, which was both convenient and awe-inspiring.  Kegs of beer are no joke!

Tickets are available for in a wide range of prices, starting at ¥3800 for cheap seats near the rafters, and can run into the tens of thousands of yen for box seats close to the mound.  Once they go on sale they go pretty fast; most days have sold out crowds, so you will have to act quickly.  Tickets are available online, and the English site is easy to navigate.  If you are unable to get tickets to the tournament, some stables (where sumo wrestlers train and live) open their morning practices to the public, which is a great secondary (and free) option.

My whole family enjoyed sumo so much we continued to watch it on TV in the late afternoons for the duration of the tournament, and I watched some of the Nagoya tournament on TV at home while working the past couple weeks.  A Canadian wrestler entered professional sumo wrestling in time for the Nagoya tournament, and it will be exciting to see how he progresses in future tournaments!

xx, C.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Caroline vs. MUJI Dress

Earlier this summer Clem and I were browsing the giant MUJI store in Shibuya when I spotted this dress.  I have a tough time shopping in Japan because I'm bigger than the average Japanese girl, so I wasn't really expecting anything when I tried it on, but surprisingly (and to Clem's great relief), it fit!  It is gathered at the waist, which distracts from my sizeable chest, and the length hits that flattering spot just above the knee.  And the best part: IT HAS POCKETS!!!

These photos were taken when Clem and I spent an afternoon at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park.  I hadn't been feeling particularly well in the morning, so I just threw on the dress and immediately look put together, which then in turn boosted my mood.  I've since worn it several times, and the only real downside is that sweat is moderately visible.  I love love love this dress, and will wear it as much as possible before I have to put it away for the winter.

xx, C.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Caroline vs. Genealogy

Have you guys heard of the show Who Do You Think You Are?  The original series was produced by BBC and followed British celebrities as they discovered their family histories, and has since been spun off into many international versions.  I binge-watched the Canadian version last summer, and have been watching the US version online the past few weeks to decompress in the evenings.  It combines history, travel, and pop culture, and I can't get enough! is obviously a major sponsor of the show, and after watching several episodes I fell for it and decided to create an account and start building my family tree.  It's free to create family trees, so I haven't had to sign up for the 14-day free trial; I can't access any of Ancestry's documents without a proper account, but I was able to get some details for free.  Even with the scant information I had access to online (and with a little help from my mom), I was able to go back six generations on two branches of my mother's family, and found out I am directly descended from John Rochester, a former MP and Mayor of Ottawa, and Charles Worthington Spencer, the youngest Superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway!  Pretty cool stuff, and I am so not surprised that I am a huge WASP.

John Rochester, looking like a boss (source)

There are family rumours that the Spencer side goes back to the British aristocratic family of the same name and that the Rosses were expelled from Scotland for stealing sheep (!), which I'd love figure out, but I've put my research on hold until I can access archives back home and I have time (and money) to make paying for an Ancestry account worthwhile.

If you are also curious about your family history, check out municipal, provincial, or national archives first; they usually have great records online, and you don't have to pay for your research.  I'd love to know what you find out!

xx, C.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Caroline vs. The Little Prince

I stopped by Kinokuniya a couple weeks ago, and joyfully found that they were having a summer sale.  Clem and I rooted through the boxes of books on offer and brought home a few good deals, including a wrinkled copy of The Little Prince, which I'd never read before.  Many of my friends in high school read it in French class, but it wasn't offered in the course I took, so this was really the first time I'd thought to read it.

It is a children's story and its pages are adorned with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's famous illustrations, but closer reading as an adult reveals major themes and its allegorical nature.  The story is thought to be partly autobiographical, and the Prince acts as a means to critique society and demonstrate the strangeness of the adult world.

The book I purchased also included Letter to a Hostage, an open letter for Saint-Exupéry's Jewish friend Léon Werth, who was trapped in Europe and awaiting passage to the United States.  The Letter was published in 1943, just two months before The Little Prince and is a similar critique of society, though less fantastical.

Some striking passages:
"All grown-ups started off as children (though few of them remember)." p.3
"This asteroid has only once been seen through the telescope: by a Turkish astronomer, in 1909. At the time, this astronomer made a grand presentation of his discovery before an International Congress of Astronomy. But since he was wearing Turkish national costume nobody would believe him... In 1920 our astronomer repeated his demonstration, wearing elegant evening dress. This time everyone accepted his proofs." p.14, 16
"To forget a friend is sad. Not everyone has had a friend." p.17
"'But you are so beautiful!' 'Aren't O, just?' replied the flower, sweetly." p.29
"My flower perfumed my whole planet, but I was unable to appreciate her... And I was too young to know how to love her." p.31
"For what this king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority be respected. He would not tolerate disobedience. He was an absolute monarch." p.35
"'Don't leave, I shall make you a Minister!' 'Minister of what?' 'Of – of Justice!' 'But there is nobody here to judge!'" p.38
"But the conceited man did not hear him. Conceited men only ever hear praise." p.40
"However, he is the only one who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is preoccupied with something other than himself." p.51
"'One is never happy where one is,' said the pointsman." p.73
"And so I said to myself: 'The main thing is that, somewhere, what one has lived through should be preserved intact. Customs. Family reunions. A house and its memories. The main thing is to live for the return.'" p.103
"If the traveller following his star across the mountain becomes too absorbed in pondering ways of reaching the top, he risks forgetting which star it is that guides him. If we act merely for the sake of action, we will get nowhere." p.115
xx, C.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Caroline vs. Osaka Castle

 The morning after our visit to Nara, Clem and I took another short train ride to Osaka to visit the Osaka Castle Museum.  It took just under an hour to get to Tenmabashi Station from Kyoto, and the Castle was just a short walk away.

We had a quick walk around part of the castle's moat before crossing a bridge that took us to the castle grounds.  We were there around 9am and the weather was not great, but there were still a ton of people; I would definitely recommend visiting at the beginning or the end of the day (last entrance is at 4:30pm).  We stopped to take some pictures of the exterior (I was particularly excited to see a 'Japanese Castle Emoji' in real life!) and the yellow statues for the Tenka-Ichi Festival, and then joined the queue for tickets to enter the museum.

The castle itself is a 1931 concrete reconstruction of the original 1583 structure, and most recently underwent some restoration in 1997.  Visiting the grounds is free, and 600¥ will get you into the museum, which covers the history of Osaka and the castle over eight floors, and has an observation deck with 360 degree views of the city at the top.  The displays flow from top to bottom, so you can take an elevator between floors, use the stairs, or any combination thereof; the most popular mode seemed to be taking an elevator to the eighth floor and then walking back down.

Displays included original artefacts and documents, as well as replicas and models of to show what Osaka looked like over the centuries.  The museum had to work within the confines of the castle building, which is deceivingly small, so sometimes the crowd doesn't flow very easily, but there were enough displays and mounted information that there was always something to look at or read.  One of the floors had a photo shoot area with costumes, so Clem enjoyed dressing up as a soldier (at the cost of ¥300).

We were back out of the museum within about an hour, and then we walked over to a garden of blossoming plum trees we'd seen from the observation deck.  It was still a little early for the trees to be fully in bloom, but I still took advantage of all the gorgeous hues of pink and snapped away.  From there we walked the rest of the moat's perimeter, and headed back to the train station.

Osaka is known as "Japan's Kitchen," so I would have liked to spend a few days there just eating, but unfortunately the timing didn't work out with the Kyoto trip.  Hopefully I can return sooner rather than later!

xx, C.