After I wrote about spring last night, I realized that some current photos were in order. So I snapped a few on my way home from work today. But what does this have to do with girls, flowers and a thirst for blood?
First, some background information, in a bulleted list for those of you who tend to glaze over when faced with run-on sentences or long paragraphs:
- I bike to work every day. Bike as in bicycle. Not a motorbike, nor a scooter, both of which are what immediately come to mind for Japanese people when you say “bike.” Not one of those fancy electric bicycles, either—the ones that are all the rage with Japanese pensioners. My cycling habit will explain the detailed descriptions of slopes and hills which, in addition to small mountains, are plentiful in our neighbourhood.
- Most streets in Japan don’t have names. Directions are usually given based on distances and landmarks.
- I usually refer to the first hill I have to climb on my way to work as “the art museum hill.” The art museum hill is about 400m uphill at a 10% grade followed by a similar distance and slope downhill.
- At the peak of the art museum hill is a turnoff which I call “the art museum road.” Yes, art museum road, not hill, even though it is a hill, and more so than the art museum hill. The art museum road winds its way for 800m or so at a slightly steeper grade than the art museum hill. It passes through a sculpture park and leads to the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art at the top. Fortunately, the art museum road is not part of my daily commute. Unfortunately, the art museum hill is the first and easier of the two hills I have to climb. Meaning that there is a second, longer and steeper hill later on.
If you’re still with me, you probably need a photo break. I certainly do.
Here’s a picture from the art museum. I was at the top of a 5m tall viewing tower, which put me at about the same height as the middle floor of the art museum. The view is towards Tobata. The smokestacks are part of the Nippon Steel factory complex. Beyond that is the Kanmon Strait which separates the island of Kyushu from Honshu. The mountain in the background is the southern tip of Honshu. For a map, see my post about the recent earthquake. The photo is from January 23, 2004.
Next is a detail from the above photo. Label number 1 is Jarrod’s school: Tenraiji Elementary School (天籟寺小学校). Label number 2 is Lia’s school, Tobata High School (戸畑高校). Tobata High School is 5 storeys tall. I think Tenraiji is as well. Label number 3 is sort of floating between two buildings. It’s approximately where our apartment building is. According to Japanese numerology, we live in a void. But that’s another post. (Hint: search the archives.)
Ready for some time travel? We’ll go all the way back to to January 20, 2004—three days before I took the above photos—to a shot from near my school. It’s not quite as far up the hill as my school is, but the view is a bit more interesting for the absence of school buildings. I had the camera pointing in the same general direction as I did in the photo of Tobata. To get to school, I take the road between the apartment buildings in the center of the picture. In the foreground you can see the edge of a vacant lot where Taito Corporation employees park the company vehicles. There’s a branch office at the bottom of the hill. I don’t think they’re related to the company of 80s video game fame, but you never know.
Here’s a detail of the above photo. Label number 1 is floating above the art museum, approximately where I took the other photo from. Label number 2 is floating above the art museum road I mentioned earlier in this post. And the line descending from label number 3 ends at about the peak of the art museum hill, also described above. I ride through the space directly below that label, though the space only exists because of the perspective of the photo—the building on the right is about two blocks closer than the one on the left. The top of the art museum hill is approximately halfway, in a straight line, between the place where I was standing when I took the photo and Tobata High School.
And now it’s time for… Axes! Flowers! Mayhem!
There’s a creek and a narrow greenbelt next to the road up the art museum hill on the Tobata side. Yes, that’s the side I don’t have pictures of so you’ll have to use your imagination. It’s narrow—including the creek it’s narrower than the road. Next to the creek are small flower beds which have recently been filled with various, ummmm, flowers.
Here’s a view with my back to the art museum hill, showing the sidewalk and the green zone, including the creek. I said it was small, didn’t I? Note the tree that is in full bloom. The creek is at the bottom of the sloping grass to the right of said tree.
To the left are ginko trees, which cause a nasty stink in the fall when the fruit ripen and fall to the ground. Last fall the city hired someone to cut down a bunch of the trees. I think they only targeted the fruit-bearing female trees. As an aside, there’s an essay, comparing early 21st century Japanese attitudes toward women with the postwar role of American housewives, in the context of the male-dominated banking industry, the use of the ginko tree in arboriculture,* and the falling Japanese birth rate, just waiting to be written. (*In Japanese, ginko is a homophone for bank.) But I’ll spare you. Actually, I think I’ve just written about all that needs to be said on the subject.
Anyway, for the cyclists in the audience, the slope is really gentle here, but it’s still a grind going uphill most of the way to work on a Monday morning. The only consolation is that at the end of the day I usually build up momentum on the steeper section and then coast down at 40-45kph, passing all the rush-hour traffic.
The next photo is a closeup of one of the flowers on the tree in the the above picture. This is a huge flower considering how dense they are on such a tall tree. Each flower is about 10cm across. If anyone can identify it, please let me know. Someone told me that the trees are related to magnolias but beyond that I don’t have any idea.
Meanwhile, back at the flower beds…
Over the last couple of weeks someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that each bed is neat and tidy, with a careful arrangement of one or two varieties of flowering plant in each one. Here’s one of the beds, with some purple-and-white flowers and a bit of greenery that will probably bloom in a couple of weeks. You can see the creek and a footpath in the background. The flowers have been lovingly planted in a nice wholesome bed of what appears to be sand, gravel and clay. Recycled concrete perhaps? Anyway, note the little sign. Especially the reddish mushroom-shaped blob on the left side.
Here’s a closeup, from a different flower bed. This girl obviously means business. My Japanese isn’t good enough to read the sign, but the look on the girl’s face is enough to give me an approximation of the meaning:
Cut or otherwise remove any of these plants and an axe-wielding, flower-defending young lady will chase you down, hack open your chest, and remove your still-beating heart. She will then bathe in your blood until her hair and clothing are stained crimson.
Seriously. Don’t mess with her. She’s obviously an expression of the pent-up angst of generations of oppressed Japanese feminists. Even her bowl cut looks dangerous. All she needs is a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and she’ll be ready to start her women’s studies degree.
Ed: Imagine my surprise when Mr. Google popped up your site when I entered “Cycling Poems” in search of suitable material with which to praise the trip leader of the Centennial Cycling Club of Wolfville, NS, my new-found home within a home. Your site is magnificent and helps to fill the void left by our departure from Saskatoon (and the badminton group).
Best of luck, Bill
That’s not a girl. It’s Momotaro, a super-strong baby boy from Japanese folklore, and the sign says:
“The lottery is the strength upon which a society’s wealth is built.
The lottery is useful to society in many ways.”
Apparently, the lottery proceeds helped pay for the planter box.