September 23, 2009

Silver Week

My co-worker said to me last Friday: “Hey, what are you doing for Silver Week?”
Me: “Huh? What’s Silver Week?”

Today was the last day of the so-called Silver Week, a new pseudo-English phrase that has gained acceptance in describing a set of extended holidays, five days long, from September 19 through 23, in Japan. The Japanese government designated an extra national holiday on September 22 so there would be five consecutive days off. It’s unusual to get these holidays, and I read that the next time the calendar will afford another Silver Week will be in five years.

Technically not quite a full week, the ‘silver’ half of the term is likely derived from the commonly used allusion to silver in connection with aged/elderly folks, given their gray hair. (September 21 is Respect for the Aged Day.)

Silver Week is also is a pun on Golden Week, Japan’s version of Spring Break, in May. Golden Week has four national holidays which fall within the space of one week, resulting in the longest vacation period of the year for many Japanese workers. So people can take an extended vacation at home or head abroad.

To my recollection, there hasn’t been a Silver Week since I arrived on these shores in 1996. I think it has come about for economic -- rather than altruistic -- reasons
, viz. granting the still-overworked Japanese another respite from the work grind so they can go out and spend, spend, spend. Think opportunism more than Utopianism.

Still, the vibe in my workplace is that any excuse for a few more days off is most welcome and rarely questioned in terms of ulterior government motives. Personally, I left skid marks on the floor when leaving the office on Friday afternoon.

Based on what I’ve seen on the news, this super long-weekend, together with discounted expressway toll prices, has mostly resulted in another round of 40-plus kilometer traffic jams in the major urban areas—a road-rage inducing, chaotic mess. When I discussed this turn of events with my aunt-in-law (sic?), she said the crazy traffic jams on the expressways have made them an oxymoron—more democratic (i.e. cheaper) tolls have reduced their utility because taking the expressway during any extended holiday period is now is an exercise in futility.

Nonetheless, I had an outstanding Silver Week here in the Hiroshima area with the Rising Family. Leave it to the Japanese to coin another catchy term for a new social phenomenon…I am expecting a Bronze Week to arrive any time now with a corny slogan and inevitable animated character: “Let’s all vacation to happily revitalize the economy.” And why not? I am always ready to take a day off for the greater good.

September 10, 2009

The Anatomy of August: Part 2

Doctor Fish
Have you ever had fish nibble the calluses off your feet instead of a pedicure?
I thought not.
I’ve never actually had a pedicure, so the thought of schools of little fish literally sucking the dead skin from my tired and rather gross feet seemed just plain nutty. This is precisely why I went ahead and did it. I was only slightly crazed from the summer heat, and it only cost 500 yen.

I tentatively dangled my feet into the shallow pool and the fish lunged for them like tiny piranhas. The sensation was initially very odd, certainly out of my comfort zone, but not painful. I squirmed in my seat while my dear wife looked at me with challenging eyes: what kind of wussy-man are ya?
The foot cleaning takes about 10 minutes. You gradually get used to the sensation of a few hundred little fish feasting on your feet. After the first few minutes, a certain numbness creeps in, and the tickling sensation soon feels more like tingling. Its akin to the acute pins-and-needles tingling one feels when the blood returns after your legs or feet fall asleep.

While the Doctor Fish practice seems to have originated in Turkey, it has spread throughout Japan, the rest of Asia and North America. I recommend it, even just for a lark. More information available at:

Miyajima Fireworks
As I noted the previous post, late July to early August is the season of fireworks in Japan. The annual Miyajima fireworks festival is one of the most famous in old Nippon and attracts over 300,000 visitors.
In years past, Naomi and I were usually motorcycle touring in mid-August and had few chances to attend the Miyajima fiesta of explosives. With the addition of Lady E., we now had the opportunity to view the fireworks and give her a thrill. Having seen them before once or twice, I can say with confidence the Miyajima fireworks really are spectacular.
Unfortunately, a great public event also means hordes of spectators and unimaginable traffic gridlock. We left our apartment hours before the fireworks were scheduled to begin, but were still ensnared by the flow of humanity. After significant teeth-gnashing we opted to divert to a park some distance from the main venue. That vantage point was not as impressive— no gut-shaking booms and brilliant streaks overhead like the spectators on Miyajima island experienced, but Lady E. seemed to enjoy the night anyway.

Obon Holiday=Visiting the Homestead & Avoiding Traffic Jams
We visited the family homestead in the countryside outside Hiroshima, which is the traditional custom for Japanese families during Obon. It’s nice to evade the heat and humidity of the city and catch up with members of Naomi’s family. By staying in the Hiroshima region, we also avoided the long Obon holiday traffic jams that result from virtually everyone in Japan taking their long vacations at the same time.

Lady E. at the local shrine near Naomi's place in the countryside

Time slows down when we visit there and I unplug from the matrix for a few days. Elena now has decent leg coordination and she can lope around the old farmhouse and surrounding gardens and rice fields without incident. She has the run of the place and everyone is so happy to see her, which makes us happy, too. And we get watermelon….lots and lots of watermelon!

Election Aftermath
On August 30, the general election was held for control of the House of Representatives in the Japanese Diet. The Democratic Party of Japan won the right to govern Japan.
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?” Time will tell.

And that was our August.