Thursday, September 27, 2007


well, what can I write at 7am on the day before I head on vacation? Not a lot really. I have been birding a lot, the only thing preventing the disillusionment I am beginning to feel now with Japan taking a stranglehold. Yes, it is like that. I am looking forward to going home for a vaca, although a death in the family has put a bit of a downer on things. It is hard to take all that in. I guess it will be all the more apparent when I get there. However, this is not going to be a gloomy post. This is probably not going to be an overly exciting post either (are they ever I hear you roar!!!).
Common Greenshank
So, without further ceremony, I shall continue. Work has been okay of late, not as busy as previously experienced for some strange reasons. The High Court cases we are involved with are coming to a close so that has freed up my time to do the bread and butter work. Hence, I am way ahead of my game. It makes time for the gym and stops me from eating pringles :) I went out with a friend of mine on Saturday night (PK) for a bite to eat and some pints which was a great laugh. He originally worked with me but "left" and after a stint back in Canada and up near Tokyo, has returned to Osaka to a position in Osaka University. A funny man, an interesting man...
Who's excited...Birding has been okay with the best birds being Painted Snipe (above and further below), Greater Sand Plover, Temminck's Stint, Garganey, Grey-faced buzzard (below) and a JP tick with Hobby, which is a rare bird in Osaka. The mozzies are out in full force and prevented me from birding Osaka-jo on Saturday morning. I had to make a hasty retreat having forgotten to bring my mozzy repellent and with the 3/4 length shorts on me, my legs were attacked with a viscious and relentless aggressiveness.

In the news, Israel are at it again and cutting off power and water supplies to Gaza. Wankers. USA are piling more troops in to Iraq and finally, the blood-thirsty "Security" companies are being kicked out for murdering innocent civilians in Baghdad. It's a pity they don't kick the US army out for murdering, raping, torturing and pilaging the people of Iraq. I wonder who's more the tyrant in this instance: the private security companies or the US army. I know my opinion on that.

Ireland have albeit limped through the World Cup in a demoralising display of fatigue, staleness, and no form. It's disappointing. At least I'll be able to watch their total demise in a pub in Cork this Sunday. And here was I thinking we could actually win the competition!!! Cork got trounced by the savages of Kerry in the Final of the football. Thank Christ the ladies football team brought a bit of pride back to the county having lost 2 All-Ireland finals this year and the hurlers not preforming at all...beaten by the Deise. Honestly...

On that note, and as I really don't feel like adding anymore at this hour of the brain dead morning, I will bid you all adieu. I shall return post haste with tales of drinking, birding, and whatnot from the emerald isle anon...

Carmo's Diet: this week I have mostly been eating figs

Carmo's Birds: Hobby*, Temminck's stint, Spotted Redshank, Garganey, Grey-faced buzzard, Goshawk, Oriental Honey Buzzard

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: anything at this stage

Monday, September 17, 2007

Danjiri Matsuri - more dangerous than the bull run of Pamplona and the outrage of Irish rugby fans

This weekend was a holiday weekend which meant that we had Monday off...thank Christ. A firend of mine from back home (the masterful Master O'Laoi) visited for a night and the craic was had. On Saturday morning, I went to the Danjiri Matsuri,(float festival) in Kishiwada, a small hamlet of South Osaka, famous for it's Yakuza element and dodgy dealings. A stubbornly traditional community who take pride in coming from this town. The Danjiri Matsuri of Kishiwada is said to have its origin in the "Inari Matsuri" held in the 16th year of the Genroku era (1703). Created by the Lord of Kishiwada Castle to pray for an abundant harvest, the festival, from its very beginning, enjoyed tremendous local support.

The Danjiri Matsuri quickly grew in significance for the people of Kishiwada. Gates normally barring townspeople from entering the castle grounds were thrown open on festival days. Feudal Lords of Kishiwada looked on as each danjiri was pulled in, and each danjiri pulling team staged various, high-spirited performances. Over 300 years of tradition and all of Kishiwada behind it. 34 danjiri teams bring their sacred float on a recklessly swift tour of this castle town in a race of strength, endurance, and celebration.

The wood that the danjiri is constructed from is Japanese zelkova, sturdy, expensive, harvested from Osaka, Nara, Wakayama and thereabouts. It dries for two years before carpenters build the danjiri. Then for five years artists carve scenes on the wooden vessel. Kishiwada features some of the world's premier woodwork and a well built danjiri will outlast the men who made it and their children.

The privilege and risk of dancing upon the upper roof of each danjiri belong to Kishiwada's local carpenters, or Daiku-gata. The most visible, popular and the most likely member of the danjiri team to die, each daiku-gata creates his own style of performance. "Hikoki-nori", (the Airplane dance. below) performed with arms spread wide and standing on one foot, is particularly famous.
Daiku-gata and his hikoki-nori
The most exciting aspect of the Kishiwada Danjir Matsuri lies in the skill of Yari-mawashi (Corner turning). The teams working both front and rear levers in unison, literally skid their heavy floats around each street corner. Done quickly to the beat of drums and shouts of the pulling team, corner turning is one of the most dramatic elements of the festival. In fact, it is this at this particular stage of the races around the city where people get seriously hurt, and most often than not, killed. This has earned the Kishiwada Danjiri festival the reputation of the most dangerous festival in the world (yes, even more dangerous than Pamplona Bull Run). In fact, it is said that if a memeber of the team dies or someone from the public gets killed by a danjiri, that neighborhood will reap the rewards of a bountiful harvest. The team members and bystanders alike are reputed to believe that they the risk of injury is a consequence of courage and accept a dramatic death as a consequence of a dramatic life (I kid you not...this is serious shit).
Yari-mawashi (The Turn) The pre-empt for this dangerous part of the race around Kishiwada is the sudden blowing of whistles, the raising of ropes by the police and organizers and the appearance of young kids in happi (jackets with the logo of their neighbourhood shrine association) and jikatabi (rubber-soled boots with with a separate pocket for the big toe - they look weird). Attached to the kids arms is a long, thick, braided rope. The kids march in order of age, so little by little, you notice the average height increasing as the procession passes. The kids and adults alike are chanting a mantra. Then, suddenly, you hear a whistle and a lantern on a long pole is waved. The kids break into a trot, then a run, then the teenagers pass, pulling larger ropes, then a full-on sprint as, from around the corner, the danjiri dashes, loaded down with elders, flute-players, taiko drummers, and young men tempting fate and defying gravity by jumping and dancing on top of the rumbling, skeetering danjiri. Then, as it clears the corner (or doesn’t), it dashes past. It's a sight to be believed so I hope you enjoy this selection of photos. More can be found on my Flikr.

A certain highlight of my weekend and I am glad to have gone to see it.

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating walnuts

Carmo's Birds: A nice few waders added to the season list this weekend and a new JP tick...I'll keep you all in dreaded suspense as to what it could be...

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Uma Thurman

Sunday, September 09, 2007

World Champions, Long toes, and other natural disasters

Good evening/morning/night/afternoon everybody. It has been a busy couple of weeks since my last update. Between work, the IAAF World Champs, and birding, life has been packed to the brim with activity, excitement, and ticks galore. I attended the evening session of Day 2 of the IAAF WCs in Osaka, which hosted the Mens 100m semis and final, the womens shot putt final, womens heptathlon final day, women's 800m semifinals, mens 400m hurdles semifinals, and the womens pole vault qualifying rounds where I was honored to watch the amazing Isinbayeva compete (seen in action here). The seats I had were 8 rows from trackside, right on the final bend and into the finishing straight. This meant that I was sitting directly across from pole vault event and in aisle next to the competitors coaches and team mates. It was a pretty cool experience. I had never been to an major international event like this before, be it a World Cup, Olympics and the like. It was definitely paying out the 100 yoyos to go. To watch Tyson Gay run 100m in 9.85 secs (final photo below), see Maria Mutola still put fear into her fellow 800m runners, and watch world record holders compete was mindblowing. Isinbayeva was incredible. Such confidence. Also, the womens heptathlon athletes were amazingly fit. Kluft was magnificent in winning the event and the British girls Sotherton and Ennis were brilliant (see below). All in all, a fantastic day. Check out my Flikr page for a load of photos from the event.

WARNING: BIRDING POST FOLLOWS. The following weekend I went to Mie Prefecture with Kazu and Neil. We had a great day, seeing 26 species of waders, with exceptional numbers of Red-necked stints and broad-billed sandpipers. With a spoon-billed sandpiper in Tokyo, 4 in Hakata Bay in Kyushu, together with a Nordmann's Greenshank(!) and Pec Sand, our hopes for finding a major rare were high. Alas, we had to be content with the usual spread of waders but the sheer variety made for a fantastic and entertaining day. This weekend, we went back thinking that the passing of Typhoon No. 9, which caused some serious flooding in the Tokyo area along the Tamagawa, might have brought some goodies. We couldn't have been further from the truth....there were hardly any waders at all, managing only to add 3 more wader species to our impressive 26 species from the weekend before. The following are the wader species we saw over the 2 weekends: Black-winged Stilt (see above), Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey-headed Lapwing, Great Knot, Dunlin, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint (see below), Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper , Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Marsh Sanpiper, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew (JP tick for me coz I'm a tart!!!), Far Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Snipe, Swinhoe's Snipe, Painted Snipe, Ruff, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Red-necked Phalarope. Pretty impressive...lots of more pics on my Flikr page.

For the last couple of evenings, I have been fortunate enough to be entertained by a singing Blue Rock Thrush from the apartment building across for me. It's so nice to hear a thrush sing, and it brings back fond memories of home. Speaking of which, I am heading back to the fair emerald isle in a few weeks time for my cousin, and best friend's wedding, at which I am groomsman. I am thoroughly looking forward to the event and the break from work, Japan and all that goes with it. I will have a packed agenda so R&R maybe few and far between. Rumor has it that a certain CB has surpassed my amazingly low Irish list last week, allegedly seeing the Spotted Sandpiper in Ballycotton. This information comes from CB but my sources are refusing to comment on the allegations. Roll on the holiday and a few megas for when I am on Cape Clear!!

Apart from all that, it's been okay at work, cruising now but waking up instinctively, if one could call it that, at 5.30-6am most, if not every morning. This is of course a bit of a drag as I'm falling asleep at work during the afternoon, and now take it upon myself to have a powernap for 10 minutes sitting at my desk in the evening to get that second wind for the post-6pm slot. All good fun I can assure you. Well, sin é for now. The yen is appallingly weak as piss-water. I just wish they (the JP Banks) would increase, or rather, introduce interest rates into the system here (you earn 0.005% interest, or something ridiculous like that, on your savings in Japan...nice eh?). Right, I am going to watch Spiderman 3 and go to bed. I got an hour's sleep last night in the back of the van so am quite tuckered out now. I bid you all adieu...

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating Gilco Protein shakes

Carmo's Birds: see above. JP list now stands at 326.

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Allyson Felix (US track star and supreme athlete)