Posts Tagged ‘Niigata University’

Some Views of Niigata (And a Couple of Tokyo)

March 1, 2011

The prefecture office here in Niigata has a great observation deck on its highest floor. I took my camera up there on a sunny morning last week.

Chitose Great Bridge

That part of Niigata surrounded by water — the river, the canal, and the sea — is referred to as “Niigata Island.” That’s the part I lived and worked in when I first came as a volunteer with the Lutheran church. Here, you can see the heli-pad in the foreground. When dignitaries visit Niigata, they are often flown in by helicopters that land here. I cross this bridge a lot in my daily life.

Looking across the Shinano River toward the Sea of Japan

Niigata Island again. Can you make out the faint bluish outline of Sado Island on the horizon? I’m not sure if I can, or if it’s wishful thinking. Obscured by buildings in the left half of the picture, the Sekiya Canal connects the river with the sea. The sea-mouth is in about the top center of the photo.

Facing downstream; the Shinano flowing toward the sea

My stomping grounds. The Furumachi area is to the left of the river, and Bandai City is straight ahead on the right side.

Sado Island in the hazy distance

Or else wishful thinking. Sado is really clear on some days and invisible on others. Maybe it’s not always there!

The little holt at the foot of the prefecture office

When I take the bus to the university, I walk right through the middle of this little woods and then cross the bridge you saw in the first photo. Although this was taken in late February, the trees are vibrant in the warmer seasons. I always think of the path through them as “the Shire.”

A green and ancient corner -- idea place

Down there where the driveway makes a corner against the woods is one of my old places from my first couple years here. For some reason, I chose that spot to park my bicycle, and I remember scribbling notes there for what become A Green and Ancient Light, which I conceived as a dictionary cataloguing my childhood, including things that really were and things that were imagined, and making no distinctions between them. I’d like to re-do that book someday and get it into a form that’s actually publishable. It has possibilities.

Looking toward my place

See the distant tower in the top center? Okay, just beneath that is the line of the bullet train tracks. And just below those, straight down from the tower, see the next big building? That’s the movie theater complex I go to, about a five-minute walk from my apartment. On the horizon to the left of the tower, see the thing that looks like a giant clam or a landed alien spacecraft? That’s Big Swan, the soccer stadium.

Mt. Yahiko and Mt. Kakuda

We’re looking more or less south here. I’ve climbed both those mountains: Kakuda once, Yahiko many times.

The idea corner again

This is a closeup of that woody corner beneath the prefecture office.

Niigata Prefecture Office

And this is looking up from there at the office building.

From beyond the holt

This reminds me of a medieval castle rising from the woods.

Near my place

Here’s a street I pass along every day. The green building on the right is the veterinary clinic where I took the injured duck that time. The Cupid supermarket is just to the left. The big building right behind the clinic is where my good friends live.

Very significant table

No other table is more important to the writing and all other projects I’ve done in the past two decades plus! Hallowe’en jack-o’-lanterns were perennially carved here (until I started going to World Fantasy Conventions at that time of year). D&D metal figures were painted here, and D&D was played. Uncounted lessons have been prepared here. And stories and books, from the first to the most recent — this has been the primary writing place. I always seem to work better at a kitchen table than at a desk. The chair where I typically sit is that one closest to the coffeepot.

Post office at the West Gate

Here’s the little post office outside the West Gate of Niigata University. I always think of it as my “lucky post office,” since manuscripts sent from there seem to fare better with editors than those sent from other places. But that may simply be my imagination . . . the fact is, I’ve used this post office more than any other over the years. I’ve lived in different parts of the city, near other post offices, but mailing things from the university has been more or less a constant.

Approach to the building where I teach

I love this gap in the trees between the parking lot and the building where my classes are taught.

Sunny bank of the parking lot

Nice setting, huh? The trees are often full of crows that caw loudly, ransack the garbage, and will try to mooch food from anyone eating outdoors. I had one hop up and stick his beak into the top of my tote bag one day to see what was inside. Also, these trees rain down a brown powder at a certain time of year that coats all the cars in the lot.

Niigata University, very early spring

Sometimes I take the path through these trees; sometimes I take the path that goes around them.

Plastic food

Japan abounds with highly realistic-looking plastic food. These are models in the showcase outside a restaurant.

"My" bench in Eleven Park

Eleven Park is a tiny park tucked between houses and buildings near my place. I’ve written many a letter from this concrete bench. I sat there this past summer to write most of “Someplace Cool and Dark” on my AlphaSmart Neo.

Yotsuya Station, Tokyo

This photo was taken last year. Back in my Tokyo days (1988-89), there weren’t convenient signs in English letters (romaji). We had to learn hiragana well enough to decipher the station names in time to know whether to get off or not before the doors closed. Yotsuya was the place where I and my two fellow volunteers who lived out my way would transfer from the long-distance orange train to the local yellow one.

Train station in Tokyo

I forget where precisely I took this picture, but it’s a station on the Chuo Line. I remember being the last person to squeeze into a packed train one day during rush hour. I was so close to the doors that, when they closed, the front of my coat was caught and held fast between them. I couldn’t pull it out — couldn’t retreat at all, because the train behind me was full of people. I was worried that the doors on the opposite side would open at the next station, and I’d be left dangling there. But fortunately, they opened on my side next.

A friend told me the story of getting onto a rush-hour train with a dingy, dirty tote bag. When he got off the train, it was all shiny and clean. All the passengers around him unwittingly rubbed off a little of the dirt with their backs and fronts and elbows and briefcases and manga covers.


Look at all the bilingual signs nowadays! Not so back in my day, let me tell you . . . Also, now these wickets are all automated. When I lived in Tokyo 22 years ago, station employees stood at every entrance gate and punched the edge of your ticket with a hand-held punch. Most of them kept up a constant rhythm, clicking all the time, even between moments when passengers thrust tickets at them. Clickety clickety clickety click.

Tokyo, March 1989

There I am, newly arrived in Japan, doing my six-month homestay in Musashi Koganei on the Chuo Line. I was reading Stephen King’s It then, I remember. I had been using a Smith Corona word processor in the States and had not yet bought my Ricoh “My Riport” N-10 word processor. I remember having hair. I’m still using those black PaperMate pens, the best pens made. Yes, that was my first kotatsu experience (the low table, heated beneath with electric coils that glow bright red). I shared this room most of the time with my host family’s poodle, Ringo.

This has been fun! I’ll try to take a few more pictures of city landmarks soon.

Tanuki Encounter

December 17, 2008

So, did you hear the one about the scandal surrounding the zombie politician? –He was arrested for corruption. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! (That’s an original joke, by the way. It occurred to me this past week. Yes, it was inspired by certain events in the news concerning certain non-zombie governors of certain states who were arrested for similar things.) This is the first joke I’ve come up with since my one about Medusa several years ago: What does Medusa do to her hair at night, to keep it looking nice? –She puts it in coilers.

Anyway — I’m almost sure I encountered a tanuki today. A tanuki is a Japanese animal similar to a raccoon, a badger, or an opossum. The dictionary says it’s a “raccoon dog,” but that doesn’t mean anything to you in the States, does it? I’m not talking about a “dog” of any kind. [Similarly, the dictionary says the Japanese food konnyaku is “devil’s tongue.” Oh, yeah — thanks for clearing that up, huh?]

Back to the tanuki. To see one is fairly rare; I assume they’re nocturnal, like most animals of that sort. I think I’ve glimpsed maybe one or two before in my 20 years here. What made today’s encounter so odd is that it occurred smack in the middle of the university campus.

Again, it’s not too far a stretch. Niigata University’s campus is more-or-less connected to the Matsubayashi, that intriguing, leagues-long strip of pine forest that leans away from the sea winds all along the coastline in this area. The Matsubayashi is undoubtedly home to lots of tanuki. And our campus is very woody. In warmer seasons, little lizards scramble out from under your feet if you take any shortcuts off the pathways (and sometimes even if you don’t) — and we have way more spiders than Mirkwood has, albeit smaller ones.

So, I came out of the humanities building in the very early twilight, and I was drawing near the library to pass it and the main quad, heading back to where my bicycle was parked. Today was a sunny, warm day for December. Just in front of the library’s main entrance, a paved area stretches away to the right, and a grassy yard extends to the left, in which some sapling trees stand. A student was about 20 feet in front of me, walking toward the library.

The main library entrance. The tanuki encounter happened just off to the left.

The main library entrance. The tanuki encounter happened just off to the left.

Just behind him, as if scrambling to get out of his way, a furry gray animal moved through a row of parked bicycles and into the grassy yard. There was still so much daylight, and I was so close to this thing, that I’m quite sure of what I saw. Granted, stray cats live on the campus, but this thing was too big, heavy, and roly-poly to be the typical underfed stray cat — plus, it had a distinct, longish snout — very un-catlike.

What led me to question my senses just a little, though, was how the creature seemed to vanish into thin air. No, I didn’t see it disappear. But I got right over to where it had been, which took me about five or seven seconds. I expected to have a much better look at it. But it just wasn’t to be found. There wasn’t any dense bush cover, and I didn’t see any holes in the ground it might have darted into. The library’s foundation was still some fifteen or twenty feet away — if it somehow got into a space under the building, it certainly moved quickly.

I loitered around there for another long moment, listening for any sounds of furtive movement, looking for holes or suspicious shapes — nothing.

Although the tanuki is a real animal, its folkloric presence is steeped in magic and the supernatural. So maybe this one did just vanish into the air on an early evening at the end of autumn.

Why do I tell this story on a blog about the writing life? Surely you know by now that I’m going to say we’re surrounded by enchantment. William Blake wrote, “. . . to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is imagination itself.”

If the numinous didn’t constantly encroach, where would we be? What would we write about?

In closing: to anyone who’s not playing the latest alphabet game, please see the previous posting on this blog! The more, the merrier — jump in!

The Light in August

August 7, 2008

Today I turned in semester grades to the university office. We have the option of mailing them in, but I’ve always enjoyed hand-delivering them. It’s like a victory lap when the term is over, when the hard work is behind us all, students and teachers, for a little while. The campus is pretty much deserted these days, but it was such a perfect summer day, absolutely cloudless, that I decided to take along my camera and capture, for your viewing pleasure, some of my favorite places there.

First, there’s this wonderful, whispery stairway between the new Lawson convenience store and the library. The campuses I can remember being on the States are all pretty much flat (maybe because I’ve only been on ones in Illinois, and non-southern Illinois, at that). But Niigata University’s grounds have delightful drops in elevation such as this one. The land falls sharply below the main plaza outside the General Education building. The trees and underbrush have been left untouched where the ground is steep, providing patches of what amounts to full-scale forest in the midst of the pavements and traffic of university life. More than once I’ve been startled by a lizard scuttling underfoot across the bricks or clinging to a bush’s leaves beside my elbow. Today I was marveling at the spiderwebs in the thicket behind the bicycle rack. I could see ten spiders at once without turning my head — it was Mirkwood, right here in Niigata — the webs catching the light of the afternoon sun, nets of flashing gold. [I’m still getting used to digital photography, and I couldn’t get the webs to show up, no matter what post-production tricks I pulled, so those pictures aren’t here.] Note the weeds growing from the roof of the bicycle parking shelter (very top picture) — pretty cool, huh? I also saw an actual pheasant browsing along in the undergrowth at the southwest corner of the General Education building!

I’ll also include here some views of one of my classrooms. This is B-354, the one in which I taught Advanced English for economics students and the Practical English Seminar for (mostly) humanities students. This is pretty typical of Japanese classrooms, with long, straight rows of desks. In conversation classes, though, it’s not at all uncommon to move the desks around, gathering them into little “islands” when the students speak in groups. Notice also the platform for teachers to stand on. This wing of the building was just remodeled, so this room was brand-new this past semester — very nice, roomy, bright with the row of windows along the side, and air-conditioned. The row of inner windows looking out into the hallway can be screened off with pull-down blinds. The only problem I’ve noticed is with sound: much more than with the old classrooms, sound from neighboring rooms carries quite loudly. It was hard for us all to keep straight faces one day when a class somewhere nearby was apparently studying traditional minyou singing (I think) — I’m not sure if it was the professor demonstrating, or if we were listening to a tape, but it did make it hard to concentrate.

Another of my favorite little features is the way a treetrunk and a hedge form a living framework around a doorway into the General Education building. The picture is here on the left.

In a much earlier blog posting, I showed you “the birthplace of Dragonfly.” This photo tour includes the place where, just over a year ago, I worked out the details of “Here About to Die” during the late spring/early summer. I frequently ate lunch here, above a stagnant pool in a basin. Sometimes a crow would hop around at what it considered a safe distance and would “beg,” snatching up the little pieces of bread I tossed its way. So it was here, in this green light, that I thought about Lucia and Athria and the Grand Arena on Cheleboth.

Finally, a view of the place I usually park my bicycle (the little photo on the left). To the right here is the Lucia grove above the stagnant pool.

Those of you who know me well know that I speak at times of regret. I was reflecting on how one thing in life that I do not regret in the least is teaching at this university. I really do love it — the chance I’ve had to intersect the lives of so many students at such a formative, direction-finding time for them, a time when they’re making all sorts of discoveries, realizing how wide open the world is, and trying to choose their courses in it. If I live to be an old man, I know a great many of the images that will come to me and make me smile will be the faces and the words of my students over the years. What a privilege it is to be here!

What does this all have to do with writing? What, I ask you, doesn’t have to do with writing?!