Adorable Life

July 22, 2008

Update: here are more pictures of the fire on Flickr. 

I was just talking to C on Friday about my initial impression of Sapporo as kind of small and uninteresting. I had been hoping to make a “kawaii seikatsu” — adorable life– kind of blog, with little details of the design of daily life in japan, but so far Sapporo is almost all concrete, rain and drudgery. C suggested I embrace that; if there’s only concrete and power lines, then shoot concrete and power lines. It could be an exercise– challenge myself to go out and focus only on windows, say. It’s a good assignment; there might actually be interesting things right in front of me, but I can’t see them. Coming back for the third time, everything looks familiar, not novel, to me right now.

One bright spot of kawaii seikatsu is the traditional house next door. The owner turned the first floor into a cozy little curry house, and our room looks right over the garden. It’s apparently quite a famous place, especially popular with the winter sports tourists. 

With the summer warmth our windows stay open, and I like hearing the happy voices of people enjoying food and seeing the warm glow in the windows. We are trying not to eat out much, but last Thursday it was cold, had rained all day, and I felt glum, so instead of cooking, G and I went over to eat. We had to pick our way through the narrow alley, avoiding puddles by tripping from one large paver stone to the next and happily made it to the warm alcove and slipped off our shoes. Although converted, the first floor gave G his first peek at the features of a traditional house. As we settled into our table on the (now) enclosed wooden porch overlooking the garden,  I pointed out to him the entry way, the tokonoma for hanging a scroll, and the old futon closet. 

Good curry always trumps cold, rain, and gloom, and we had a great dinner. I managed to order by far the hottest thing I have ever eaten in Japan, and G enjoyed himself greatly, laughing at my watering eyes, wheezing coughs and attempts to shake the curry off the vegetables. I’m glad someone was amused. When I ordered a lassi to cut the burning pain, the waitress chirped, Oh yeah, you got the number one spiciest dish we serve!

It’s a real gift to have a good restaurant right next door, and I was looking forward to going back often and trying less painful entrees, and to photographing the little place. It would be good enough kawaii seikatsu to start. 

I’m sorry to say, I didn’t get the chance. I woke up too early Sunday morning because I thought that someone in the room below was smoking illegally in their room; the smoke was coming in our open windows. I stuck my head out of the window ready to yell at them, and was shocked instead to see dark grey plumes of smoke pouring out of the curry shop’s upstairs window. G heard me gasp, and ran downstairs with his shirt on backwards to get someone to call the fire department.

By that point, I could hear sirens, so we just sat in our room and watched the Japanese firemen in action. Our room is directly across from the house, and only about forty feet away, so I think we saw better than anyone what was going on. This picture was taken when the firemen first arrived; you can see one stream of water in the image. 

It seemed touch and go at this point. If we opened our glass windows up, we could feel the blast of hot air in our faces. There was only one hose, at a bad angle, and the fire was threatening the house only a few feet away next door and singeing a tree in between. It looked like the second floor was gutted before the firemen managed to get several hoses and another truck in a good position. 

 

After the fire subsided a bit, the firemen crouched precariously on the second story copper roof, which was wet and slippery. They had pulled out the window frames, and tossed out the window blackened pieces of daily life– desks, clothes, soggy manga– into the garden below. They took a chainsaw onto the roof to cut it open, but then thought better of it and took out the ceiling from below. 

We weren’t the only ones watching; the house is surrounded by tall apartment buildings, and quite a few people came out onto the balconies to watch. After about two hours the fire was out. The owner came hobbling to see the damage. He had a bound ankle and almost his entire arm bandaged. I heard later that he had fallen asleep while cooking something on a burner on the second floor. He must have broken a window and gone down the 8 foot drop to the ground and cut his arm and twisted his ankle then. He has two other locations of his restaurant, and fire insurance, so he’ll be OK. We managed a few more hours of sleep, despite the strangest way G has ever started a birthday. Our room smelled like a campfire until the rain this morning. The fire inspectors continue to come and go. 

The walls and floors are concrete, so the house second floor was gutted, but the structure remains.  I feel a sad twinge every time I glance out our window and the black empty windows stare back. 

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What on earth?

July 22, 2008

I’ll amend this first post to answer the question, what am I doing in Japan? I’m going to crib this from G’s official blog, since he posted a statement of purpose recently. We are in Japan on his Fulbright Scholar grant; he is investigating the impact of China’s pollution on Japanese air quality before, during, and after the Olympics. He writes: 

 

The study will take place from July – November in both 2008 and 2009, with the purpose being to make measurements in Japan in two consecutive years, during the first of which emissions from China will be curtailed in conjunction with the occurrence of the Olympics Games in Beijing 8 – 24 August 2008, and during the second of which emissions will likely return to more typical levels.  …the Chinese government has already begun to take several steps to help achieve the air quality standards they set for the Olympics events, including the shuttering and relocation of many factories, the removal of half the cars from the road, the suspension of construction projects in Beijing, etc.

We have an unique opportunity, therefore, to examine China’s contribution to the regional and global pollution budget by making measurements before, during, and after the Olympics this year and next.

 

I’ve lived in and studied in Japan twice before. From 1996-1997, I was introduced to Japan through the JTW program at Kyushu University. Then, after receiving a master’s in Japan Studies at University of Washington, I received a Monbusho to study at Tokyo University from 2002-2004. It’s been more than four years since I’ve been in Japan, and while we were dating, G listened to me talk about it often. With China, the Olympics, and such, Japan seemed like a great place for him to expand his research, so we’re giving it a shot here together. We’re newly wed, and he doesn’t speak a lick of Japanese, so we expect crazy antics to ensue!