Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Long waits, long seminars, long baths

First off, this picture is from a "take-asobi" (lit. bamboo playing) event at a temple near my home here. Hundreds of cut bamboo are placed in a bamboo forest and lit with candles. Taiko drummers performed as well. A nice way to spend a fall evening.

Several things to rant about today. I can start by apologizing for not posting more often. The reason is that we don't have a solid internet connection yet, so I've been pilfering off a neighboring wi-fi signal. Japan, despite being light years ahead of the U.S. in cell phone, TV, and toilet technology, is woefully behind when it comes to internet access. I guess I won't say woefully, but rather will point out that I am having to wait a month to get cable internet because they don't have the infrastructure . In part this is because Japanese haven't been suckered into paying for cable television like Americans have--whatever the reason, it's a bit annoying. I must say that I love my cell phone though--I can watch TV, scan written characters I don't recognize, and zap bar-codes to see prices--that's a spicya meat-o-ball!

So, what could possibly be worse than waiting a long time for internet (and actually I'm being overly dramatic, it's not THAT bad): six hour graduate seminars--in Japanese. That's right folks. A week ago, on the 10th, I attended my first seminar with fellow students studying under Yamada-sensei, my adviser at Kyoto University. Basically the seminar is just a chance for students to present material they are working on. The problem is they don't seem to know how to PRESENT, rather they read, and read, and read, and read. After they read, and read, and read, and read they receive feedback, and more feedback, and more feedback, and more feedback. . .concerning the most trivial things. Now, I'll add a caveat that this is all being filtered through my brain, which is less than perfect at recognizing complex Japanese, however I think I'm getting the gist of things. I had heard from a classmate in Hawaii that much of the work done at Kyoto is quite atheoretical, and the sense that I get is that he was right. Much of the presenting being done covers people's fieldwork ad naseum, from the location, to the specifics of how a certain practice is done. It sounds like early 20th century American anthropology. That's fine with me, if that is what people want to do, I don't find it very engaging, but perhaps that's just me. What I mind is having to sit through the whole process! The first seminar I attended started at 1:30 in the afternoon and didn't end until 7:30 that evening--holy numb ass cheeks batman! Yesterday's seminar was a bit better--we finished at 6:00--whoopee. Sounds like I'm going to be presenting later this month, which will be hilarious, but surely not so lengthy.

Since my negative ranting has reached an (in)appropriate length, let me shift to a positive--baths. For those who don't know, there is no central heating in Japanese homes. Kerosene stoves are used, but only sparingly (I'm sure there are exceptions). Basically, the idea is to keep things just tolerable--meaning that you have to wear warm clothes inside as well. The evening bath, therefore, becomes truly the sweetest part of everyday.

Bare skin, goosebumps;
skittering into the bath-room.
I pull back the lid to find swaths of thick steam.
A bowl full of hot water to wash feet and bottom;
heavy splashes begin to pinken my skin.
Toes, heels, thighs, knees, bottom--then slip in altogether.
Cold tensioned knots loosen and drift away like balloons
that slip from the inattentive hands of children.
I hear cool October winds brushing past the window,
so I lower myself further into the bath.
Sweat sits in beads on my brow,
but I stay longer in the warm silence
imagining the length of things:
a bristlecone pine on Notch Peak in Utah;
a sunset in Baghdad;
a fishing net on a boat in Sweden;
a watchband on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan;
a breath.
I pull myself from warm water thoughts,
where a mikan orange and soft pajamas wait for me.

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