27 February 2012

It was 12

Degrees. Celsius. And sunny. There hasn't been a reason for going outside quite as good for a rather long time. So on Friday I got my house-hermit self off on a short cycle to Herrenberg.

It seems that fields are being ploughed. That, and some ground cover plants are rotting and becoming quite smelly. But the nice weather got many people out on their feet, bicycles, or wheelchairs, to exercise themselves and their dogs. It's great to have all the farmland open for everyone to appreciate. And when I'm on a highpoint out in the fields, I can see all the surrounding villages and wonder which one looks like the one I was aiming for.

Below is a rough trace of my route. Foot paths are hard to track. Estimated distance: 27 km.

View Larger Map

From the archive: We visited Herrenberg in summer last year.

Oh, and, Karlsruhe

We visisted some friends in Karlsruhe a while ago. First, we hung out with hoards of kids at Europabad, and did a few good supertube runs, after which we proceeded to see a bit of the place. The city fans out from the palace, so the German nickname is Fächerstadt, or Fan City.

German demons

As always, Wikipedia answers all. The festival that saw people from local clubs dress up as demons and the like, and parade up the main street, must have been Fastnacht. The flags that decorated the village for the last few weeks and that occasion were taken down yesterday.

If you'll join me on a Wikipedia-sponsored journey of amateur comparative culture, here are selections from the Fastnacht Wiki:

An old tradition in Southern Germany, carnival is the time of the year when the reign of bad spirits of the cold and grim winter period is over and these spirits are symbolically being hunted down and expelled. ... Carnival — this combination of pagan beliefs and Christian traditions — can thus be interpreted as the symbolic preparation for a new annual cycle.

That Wiki also goes on to mention fasting, which I'm guessing may also be connected to Lent since the adoption of Christianity. Next up are some bits from the Wiki on Setsubun, a Japanese festival that occurs around the same time as Fastnacht.

In its association with the Lunar New Year, Spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year's Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. ... The new year was felt to be a time when the spirit world became close to the physical world, thus the need to perform mamemaki to drive away any wandering spirits that might happen too close to one's home. Other customs during this time included religious dance, fasting, and bringing tools inside the house that might normally be left outside, to prevent the spirits from harming them.

And now, some pictures of the costumes. A lot of them were taken as we were walking home very briskly because we were freezing. If you're going to join an outside activity, wear lots of down-filled clothes!

It was funny how the evil beings would pick on teenage girls by briefly kidnapping them in order to rub straw in their hair. Not unlike how children in Japan may be picked up by someone dressed as a demon for good luck—yes, even though it makes them scream. My favourite story related to Setsubun activities came from kindergarten. A friend of mine said she quite enjoyed the "oni power" (demon power) that lasted long after her son's school celebrated the festival, because she could easily get him to do things, you know, by threat of demons coming to get him.

24 February 2012

It was December, it was Rothenburg ob der Tauber

For clarification, the town where I lived in Japan, Uchiko, has a sister city relationship with Rothenburg. Every year a small group of junior high students visit the town, another part of Germany, and another European country. I met up with ex-colleagues and ex-students for a short part of their trip.

Pardon the artsy shots of things that might not interest you, and the backs of people's heads. Respecting the privacy of minors and all that.

I'm actually rushing this post, because I want to get on with other ones. So, in short, touristy but beautiful. Fun. I'd like to go again. I'm sad that the toy museum is closing. Or has closed already, who knows. That was definitely a high point. That and those awesome wrought iron signs. Plenty of pictures of those, you have been warned.

P.S. There was an immense amount of Japanese tourists! Amazing! Out of the three or four people I roomed with during my stay at the hostel, only one wasn't Japanese. I even took to greeting people in the street—yes—in Japanese. Why not! Old habits die hard after all.

22 February 2012

Things from the office, or studio, or whatever this is

One of my favourite bits of Japanese memorabilia: a biscuit tin from the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

Love the back covers of African Art and Precolumbian Art, 1972, Octopus Books, London.

16 February 2012

Unpacking... still? Again?

We're the proud owners of one of those big IKEA shelves. You know the one. So unpacking boxes has been relaunched, since there's actually somewhere to put some of the stuff now. My husband's already convinced that I've run out of space, but I'm not defeated yet!

I did however see a full box this morning that I hadn't noticed yesterday. Ganbarimasu.

Some things are fun to unearth. As you can see on left, I found some pictures in an ikebana book where I was showing the ladies in the club my South African money for no particular reason. By the looks on our faces I think we reposed the event for the photographer.

And as you can see below, there were also the Wazm washi mobiles that I received as "payment" for a drawing. Considering how cute they look in our apartment: best payment ever. Success!

P.S. Above zero temperatures are feeling—and I can't believe I'm going to say this, but—balmy.

12 February 2012

An ode to the Rand / 南アフリカのランド

This post has been sitting around unfinished, waiting to become relevant. Now we have it: South Africa will be updating its Rand notes towards the end of 2012, commemorating Nelson Mandela in the process.

Before this change I'd like to share some of what I've gleaned about our currency, including what I learnt at a presentation of the now defunct South African Banknote Society. Japanese summaries are included.

Coins: Rands and cents コインのランドとセント

Starting from bottom right...

The 5c carries the national bird, the Blue Crane.
The 10c carries the Arum Lily.
The 20c carries the national flower, the King Protea.
The 50c carries the Strelitzia.

5c はハゴロモヅルという鳥です。
10c はオランダカイウ属という花です。
20c はプロテアという花です。
50c はゴクラクチョウカ属という花です。

The R1 carries the national animal, the Springbok.
The R2 carries the Kudu.
The R5 carries the Wildebeest.

R1 はスプリングボックというガゼルです。
R2 はクーズーというレイヨウです。
R5 はヌーです。

The back of all coins carry the national coat of arms. You can see the old and the current versions in the picture.



Notes: Rands 紙幣のランド (だいたい10ランド=100円)

The paper notes are where it really gets interesting. South African money is very user-friendly, because each note is a different colour and a different size. You'll also notice that there are many details in the design of the Rand that bind the notes together as a set rather beautifully.

All notes feature one of Africa's famous Big Five on the front. Each note also has a symbol on the front. This symbol is related to the theme that is represented on the back of the note. On the front, this symbol morphs in design and colour to become the symbol of the next note in the series. For example, in the first case below, the sunflower becomes a diamond. Notice when you get to R200 that the symbol returns to the sunflower. (Click images to view larger versions.)

The green R10 carries the Rhino. Its symbol is a sunflower. Its theme is agriculture.
R10 のシンボルマークはひまわりです。テーマは農業です。

The brown R20 carries the African Elephant. Its symbol is a diamond. Its theme is mining.
R20 のシンボルはダイヤモンドです。テーマは鉱業です。

The red R50 carries the Lion. Its symbol is an atom. Its theme is science and industry.
R50 のシンボルは原子です。テーマは科学です。

The blue R100 carries the Cape Buffalo. Its symbol is a wildflower. Its theme is South Africa's fauna and flora.
R100 のシンボルは野の花です。テーマは自然です。

The orange R200 carries the Leopard. Its symbol is a cog or a wheel. Its theme is infrastructure and technology.
R200 のシンボルは歯車です。テーマはインフラと科学技術です。

There are many interesting security features, but my favourite one is the eye test. South Africans, grab a note from your wallet, and look at the texture to the right of the animal's head. If you're amazing, you'll notice that this isn't a texture at all, but that it is in fact very, very small text, spelling out... Well, you tell me!

I also really like how our eleven official languages were included on the notes. The front of all the notes are English, while the back of each note carries two of our other languages. Two times five is ten, plus English makes eleven. Neat indeed.

We started using this money in 2000. The Reserve Bank feels it's time for a security update. Well, why not. As for the addition of Mandela... I remember the presenter of the Banknote Society remarking that the choice of the Big Five was perfect, because it's so neutral. Let's unpack that thought. If you compare the Rand to most other currencies, you'll find that the absence of any human figures on our money is quite glaring. Although I think this was a wise decision, I don't think you can really call it "neutral". It's more like deliberately, seemingly neutral. But to conclude, I think that adding Mandela is a great idea. I don't see South Africa choosing five people to put on our notes in my lifetime, but I can see almost all of us agreeing that if we're going to add one, it should the father of our nation.

UPDATE (i): I had to have a German student inform me that people are calling it the "Randela". That's how far-removed I am from everything that's fun about South Africa. I can't find official depictions anywhere on the Reserve Bank's website, but here are some. Of course I've already seen idiots talking about the removal of Afrikaans from the notes. Clearly they weren't paying attention to how it was before. I haven't seen the backs of all of them, but judging by the back of the R10, the language situation I described above still stands.

UPDATE (ii): More about the coins from the South African Mint Company and more about the notes from the South African Reserve Bank.

Where the little birds are

Those little black birds are out there every day, searching for grubs to eat. We're such sissies for complaining about the cold.

08 February 2012


After some colder weather, Germany can almost fool you into thinking that -5 °C and sunny is "a nice day". Well you almost got me there, Germany. But I'm not heading out for a picnic just yet.

Once I get my blogger-self in order I'll finally post the promised Rothenburg pictures. They're all nice and edited, now I just have to make a selection for here. After that, there are also pictures from some winter festival we ran through this weekend. "Some winter festival" because I haven't quite figured out the origin of people dressed like witches and demons parading down the street—though I'm quite intrigued by the cultural parallels between this and Setsubun—and "ran through" because after two hours in the cold the demons weren't so interesting anymore; all we could think to do was run home before we died, you know, of hypothermia. In the snow. Right there amongst all the other people who were functioning perfectly well.