Wednesday, May 3, 2017

towel brush koinobori

This big-eyed blue fish is my latest koinobori etegami. Koinobori are carp-shaped windsocks that are flown from flag poles for Children's Day Festival, symbolizing parents' hopes that their children (especially sons) will grow up to have perseverance, strength, and courage. I used a "towel brush" instead of the standard writing brush for the lines in this one. A towel brush is made by fastening a bit of terrycloth towel around the tip of a chopstick. It has the advantage of being hard to control and gives me the awkward lines I love so much. The writing says: "The Word of the Lord is my Lifeline"

Below, you can see two more koinobori etegami out of the many I've painted in past years:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

golden week

In Japan we are about to enter Golden Week, when four national holidays are concentrated in a period of seven days. The last of these holidays is Kodomo-no-hi (Children's Day, sometimes called Boy's Day) on May 5.

Traditionally the festival celebrates the healthy growth of boys --girls having been covered by the Hinamatsuri Festival on March 3, which is not a national holiday. It is celebrated with displays and food that symbolize strength, perseverance, and bravery. These symbols include ancient samurai helmets, the Japanese iris, kashiwa-mochi (sweet sticky rice wrapped in an oak leaf), chimaki (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves), and most famously, koinobori (carp-shaped windsocks) that are traditionally flown from flagpoles set up next to the house for that purpose. 

These etegami are works-in-progress, but I'll try to post a few completed versions soon. In the meantime, you might like to do a search on this blog for earlier etegami inspired by Children's Day. (Use the "search this blog" box in the sidebar).

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

more fun with etegami frames

It started with a frenzy of decluttering, except that I got distracted by some old Japanese songbooks that were destined for the recycling bin. Without a clear idea of where I was headed with it, I cut some of the colorful pages into strips, and wove them together into mats. I glued them to pieces of corrugated cardboard cut out in rectangles and circles, trimmed the excess paper, and brushed some glossy sealer over the woven paper surface to anchor the strips. After that, my mind went blank, so I set the project aside for the next two months.

Then, last week, a surprise package arrived from an etegami friend in southern Japan. It was a picture frame she had made from layers of corrugated cardboard. You can see it on my received mailart blog. I was too lazy to imitate her design, but it did give me ideas for what to do with my unfinished paper strip mats. 

My original idea had been to display my etegami on the "mats," the four corners of the etegami held down by elastic string threaded through the back of the mat, much like the typical etegami frames sold in Japanese shops. But now I'm experimenting with the possibilities presented by layering two or more sheets of corrugated cardboard with a window cut into the top layer, giving the frame some depth. 

righthand etegami affixed to top of mat;
lefthand etegami nestled in a hole cut into the mat

Monday, March 20, 2017

an ode to the tax code

Ode to the Tax Code
by V. Patschke

There is hereby imposed
on the taxable income
of every individual
(other than a surviving spouse
as defined in section 2(a)
or the head of a household
as defined in section 2(b))
who is not a married individual
(as defined in section 7703)
a tax
determined in accordance
with the following table.

If your taxable income is:
not over $22,100
Your tax is:
15% of taxable income.
If your taxable income is:
Over $22,100
but not over $53,500
Your tax is $3,315
plus 28% of the excess
over $22,100.

If your taxable income is:
The spectrum of colors in the rainbow
Your tax is:

If your taxable income is:
A 100-piece symphony orchestra
Your tax is:
Flutes and violins

If your taxable income is:
Your tax is:

If your taxable income is:
The gift of superpowers
Your tax is:

If your taxable income is:
A bountiful feast
followed by mouthwatering desserts
Your tax is:
followed by a period of fasting

If your taxable income is:
Eight hours of sleep
with lovely dreams
Your tax is:
Loud snoring
with two trips to the bathroom

If your taxable income is:
Unconditional love from family and friends
Your tax is:
Less frequent letters and
fewer phone calls

If your taxable income is:
Peace and prosperity
Your tax is:
A period of political chaos
and discontent

In applying rulings
and procedures
published herein,
the effect of subsequent
court decisions,
rulings, and
procedures must be
All taxes are due
on the 15th of April.
In the event of late payment
A 25% fee
and 25 grey hairs
will be applied.

Friday, March 17, 2017

the fascinating world of niboshi

You can hardly discuss Japanese cuisine without mentioning niboshi, the dried baby sardines used in making one of the most common varieties of dashi, the ubiquitous soup stock that flavors such a great variety of Japanese foods.

Here's a Wikipedia link, but if you just google niboshi (also called iriko), you'll find so much more information than Wiki offers about this little package of big flavor.

Even so, I wouldn't have been inspired to paint an etegami of these bone-dry, misshapen creatures if I hadn't met someone on Instagram who lives and breathes niboshi.

When I say she lives and breathes niboshi, I mean she's stuck in a room full of them all day, every day. It turns out that she married into a family that produces kanbutsu, a catch-all term that means dried foods used in traditional Japanese cooking, such as vegetables, seaweed, noodles, and fish. I get the impression that the main product her family business deals with is niboshi. For seventeen years she has sorted  thousands of these dried fish each day, picking out the occasional rock or wrong sort of fish that gets overlooked during the several stages of preparing these things for the market.
a typical bag of niboshi

As is true of so many businesses that produce traditional products, the customer base of my friend's company has aged and dwindled without being successfully replaced by the next generation-- a generation that prefers Western food culture. Other companies in the same boat have tried attracting younger customers by developing westernized versions of niboshi recipes and printing them on the backs of their packages. But cooking is not a talent my friend feels she has. Alas.

So. What can she do to help out the family business? She thought about all the funny-looking fish and other odd things she comes across while sorting niboshi every day, and it occurred to her that people might get a kick out of seeing pictures of them on Instagram. At least it would help publicize this traditional food product to those who are unfamiliar with it.

That's how her Niboshi Monster photos were born. She finds fish babies -- not just sardines but other sea creatures that get mixed in and have to be sorted out-- and she arranges them into scenes that tell a story. I'm totally hooked on them, and eagerly await each new photo.

The best I can do is share the following photos-of-her-photos, but you can see them much better if you click here to go to her page on Instagram.

baby sardines attack baby perch of some sort (Apogon semilineatus)

baby perch of some sort (Apogon lineatus?) blowing fish eyeball "bubbles"

baby barracuda with fish eyeball "pearls" on scallop shell

Sunday, March 12, 2017

hokkaido in mid-march

Since you don't look out of my window every day like I do, you probably can't tell that this is a photo of spring. But take my word for it; it contains many significant differences from a photo taken through the same window in winter.

For one thing, the heavy cover of snow has broken up enough that you can see an exposed corner of our garage. For another, the four long legs which hold up the blue-green kerosene tank are still hidden in the snow, but the tank itself is no longer buried.

And most importantly, some of the branches of our huge but temporarily squashed hydrangea bushes are sticking up out of the snow. If you look carefully, you will see that there are leaf buds on the otherwise bare branches. It may be two or more months before the leaves actually unfold, but the buds are definitely there.

Welcome to March in Hokkaido.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

if you look really hard

Our part of Hokkaido is still covered in a white, white, white blanket of  snow. By early April, the snow will have melted enough to make out buds of crocuses and butterbur peeking out through the thinning crust. But for now, there is no sign of anything green, anything growing, anywhere.

Wait! Wait a minute. I take that back. Look real hard. Reeeeeaaaaaal hard. Are those buds I see on the otherwise dead-looking and utterly bare branches of the bushes, half-buried in snow, at the very back of the garden furthest from the window?