The powerful Mach 5

Here he comes
Here comes Speed Racer
He’s a demon on wheels
He’s a demon and he’s gonna be chasin’ after someone.

He’s gainin’ on you so you better look alive.
He’s busy revvin’ up a powerful Mach 5.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and email these pictures to myself in 1986. They are totally going to blow my / his mind.

The Feast of the Passing of the Burninator

While I was spending some time in Saitama Prefecture recently, I was lucky enough to be there on the same weekend as a popular fire festival.  Less luckily, I had to leave about 6 hours before the festival actually started.

The festival had a most interesting story.  It may be somewhat lost in translation, but…

The son of a god and a princess meet for just one night.  I’m not sure how euphemistically “meet” is used here, because some time later, the princess finds herself pregnant.  Whether through means of the  supernatural or Barry White was not made clear to me.  When the princess then tells the son of the god that it’s his child, he refuses to believe it.

Some time later, the woman gives birth to the child.  Once again, she goes to the son of the god to present his child, but he still will not believe the princess.  So, she hits upon a definitive paternity test.

She puts the baby in a burning house.  That is to say – she puts the baby in the house, and then sets fire to it.  Her theory is that if the child survives, it must have godly genes.  If not…. well, perhaps she would have just been disappointed to not have a god-gene imbued son anyhow.

The really funny part of the story is that of the four people I asked about it, everyone was quite hazy about what exactly happened to the child after the whole “putting the baby in a blazing inferno” part.  I’m just going to go ahead and assume that it survived, but I thought that detail was worth a passing thought.

So today, they re-enact the story.  Even though I wasn’t able to see the festival proper, we happened to be there during the rehearsal.  Two local youngsters, playing the son of the god and the princess, were practicing their arson skills, getting ready for the big evening. Luckily, other people have taken photos before, which you may like to see if you like to see burning things.

Because remember, fire is awesome.

Awesome.

I believe that’s mate in… roku

It’s Golden Week in Japan, which has an important significance: 4-day weekend!  It’s a holiday when people will take time off for the whole week and visit their hometown or other popular tourist spots.  Tokyo is a virtual ghost town during this week (at least, it’s just “crowded” instead of “extremely crowded”), so even if you don’t go anywhere, you still get to enjoy bearable crowds on the train and the novelty of going places where you’ve got the luxury of space.

As part of Golden Week, one of my co-workers and his wife invited me to stay at her parents house about an hour from Tokyo.  It was a fantastic and rare opportunity to experience Japanese home life firsthand – home cooking, tatami matting, futons and the works.  Since her parents didn’t speak any English, my Japanese really got a working over.  The Japanese spoken in homes is also different to those in business.  Of course, the vocabulary used is different, but the means of conjugating verbs is different too.  Instead of saying shimasu (to do), you say suru.  Instead of saying ikimasu (to go), you say iku.  In spite of the challenges, I learned lots of things, and one of the first was this Shogi.

Shogi is Japanese chess.  The rules and objectives very similar to chess, in that you’re still trying to checkmate the king.  There’s lots of differences to ratchet up the difficulty, though.  Firstly, when you capture a piece, it can come back into play under your control.  So, capturing pieces not only makes your opponent weaker, but it makes you stronger, too.  You can drop this captured piece almost anywhere on the board, including right into the middle of your opponent’s pieces.  So, not only do you have have to calculate all the moves the pieces currently on the board can make, but also the effect of your opponent dropping a captured piece of their choosing on to the board.  As if chess didn’t hurt the brain enough already…

Overall, the pieces have more restricted movements than Western Chess.  There’s no equivalent Queen piece, and there’s only one rook and one bishop.  Pawns can only capture forward, not in both diagonal directions.  Knights still move in “L” shapes, but only forwards, not sideways.  There’s a four “Generals” which can only move one square like the King, but in restricted directions.

If you can get any of your pieces into one of the back three rows of the opponent’s territory, they are promoted to upgraded versions.  At this point, the possible moves of the piece sometimes changes completely – rough for a beginner!  It was a tough time remembering which piece was which, and what it did: the main way to distinguish them are somewhat elaborate kanji printed in a calligraphy style on them.

The combined effect of all this: I got my ass handed to me.  Which proves that at its essence, yep – it’s still definitely chess.

Literary gastronomy

It seems that this Izakaya menu may have suffered from an most unfortunate case of the copy and pastes.

I could only describe the ingredients as ambrosial, appetizing, delectable, heavenly, luscious, savory, scrumptious, tasteful, tasty, toothsome and finally…. nice.