Showing good manners as a pet owner

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I’ve started a new photo series, only a few days old at this point, but perhaps if some folks start to look at it I’ll feel compelled to keep at it. It’s called Inu to sanpo, which is Japanese for “walking the dog.” These are pictures I’m snapping of the neighborhood, taken as I walk the dog. It was proposed that perhaps I should do more chores around the house, ahem, and one of them was walking the dog. Now it’s not that I mind walking the dog, I quite enjoy it and don’t see it as a chore, it’s just that usually the dog is walked around 5 or 6 in the evening, at which time I’m at work. But there was no reason this time couldn’t be changed to 2 in the afternoon, and so the dog has a new companion on her walks.

Part of the impetus behind this is that after a year of living here in Japan, and in this house, I still feel like a guest, not really rooted. Perhaps walking the dog daily would help in this. Well the jury is still out on that one, but I am using it as an opportunity to further explore my neighborhood, and each day I set out in a different direction. Taking the camera along gives the walks a sense of purpose beyond tending to the dog’s needs. Interestingly, a foreigner walking a dog in the suburbs produces more than the usual stares we foreigners grow used to here in Japan. I have no idea of course what the minds behinds these staring faces are thinking but my impression is something along the lines of: Ooh look, it’s a foreigner walking a dog! If he has a dog, he must actually live here, must be a resident of our neighborhood. I wonder where he lives. I wonder if he’s married to a Japanese person. I wonder if he’s an English teacher. I wonder if he separates his garbage…. Well, you can imagine that walking through these neighborhood streets not only with a dog tethered to a leash in one hand, but a camera being carried in the other, really sets the local imagination ablaze, and really causes the rubber-neckers some serious whiplash. Ask me again if I’m feeling a part of the neighborhood….

Photography-wise, the dog walks are a challenge on the order of which I often take to, which is trying to find something interesting in the mundane, the pedestrian, the suburban. Whether it’s corrugated tin (as my last post mentioned, there’s a ton of it around here), hanging futons, monotonous new homes, and various other detritus of a neighborhood that wouldn’t know a zoning law if it bit it in its ass, there are plenty of candidates for this. One thing I’ve long been fascinated by here are the plethora of neighborhood signs admonishing local residents to do one thing or the other, or more often than not, to not do something. Which brings me to the images I’ve included here to accompany this post.

All three of them are about keeping pets, appropriate enough for a post about a new photo series called “walking the dog.” In the first one, above, pet owners are warned about the three things they shouldn’t do with their pets: 1. Don’t throw them away. 2. Don’t let them run around unleashed. 3. Don’t forget to put away their dung. I find it somewhat horrific that pet owners need to be told not to throw their pets away, but Naoko says that many folks do throw away unwanted puppies and kittens. This is hard for me to stomach, frankly.

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Admonishing owners to properly dispose of their dogs’ dung is a popular theme of all these signs. In the sign above, a good little boy with a pageboy haircut is carrying a bag labeled, in red, unchi, or “shit,” while the text below asks for everyone to help keep the city clean. And in the last photo included here, the theme is yet again picking up your dog’s doo-doo, this time laying on the guilt trip even thicker. The sign asks, “You’re not forgetting your manners, are you?” The conscientious dog is shown worrily thinking of a pooper scooper, while the boy owner obvliously starts to walk away. (These signs always feature boys, although I’ve never seen a boy walking a dog around here.)

Sign imploring local pet owners that it's good manners to clean up after their dogs: click for larger image

One person’s corrugated is another’s dilapidated

The front of a neighborhood store no longer in business, Warabi, Saitama, Japan (April 3, 2003)

Jeremy at Antipixel posted an image of a corrugated tin house in his neighborhood, and waxed somewhat lyrical about this material therein (and in the comments). I mentioned in his comments that until I started to pay a bit of attention to my neighborhood last year (ironically occassioned by some of Jeremy’s writings about Japanese architecture), I hadn’t taken notice of the fact that a lot of the homes around here employ the material.

Reading his post I thought it would be interesting to take another trip around the neighborhood, and do a “photo trackback,” as it were, to his paean to corrugation. What I discovered was that I hadn’t really noticed the extent to which my neighborhood has been corrugated. I saw so much of it on my little walk that it was as if the neighborhood itself had been “shape[d] into folds or parallel and alternating ridges and grooves” (to borrow American Heritage’s definition of corrugate). Not only were many of the homes faced with it, but whole blocks seemed to be fenced in by the stuff. As I commented on Jeremy’s post, I tend to associate corrugated tin with dilapidation, poverty, the downtrodden and threadbare, and find little redeeming about the stuff.

At any rate, I took some pictures, one of which is above. It’s of an old storefront (and presumably home above) that has long been closed. The remaining pictures I have posted here (see the first 7 images in the gallery).

One year and counting

Today, March 13, 2003, marks 1 year that I have lived in Japan. Wow. I can say with confidence that never before has a year in my life passed so quickly as this last year did. I have no idea where it went!

When Naoko and I left San Francisco on March 12, 2002, naturally my feelings were of apprehension. Leaving behind a city I called home for 14 years (not to mention the best American city by far), San Francisco, leaving behind the friendships fostered in that time, leaving behind my wonderful apartment. It seemed as if the day of departure would never come, and in some ways I didn’t want it to come. Why go through upheaval and change, would it really be worth it in the end, would Japan be the right place for me. How would I get by in learning Japanese, how would I manage to live under the same roof with Naoko’s parents, how would I cope with finding a job, and most likely doing something I had never done before, teaching. And perhaps the biggest question of all, how would married life suit me, someone who never in his wildest dreams thought he would ever get married.

Perhaps predictably, since the moment I landed however, I’ve never looked back, and never had even one smidgen of regret about leaving the States. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, but it has been a wondrous one, so many things coming together, so many unexepected discoveries, so many new directions in life that I never envisioned.

I have no idea how many more years Naoko and I and family will be in Japan, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it will go by even quicker than Year 1 did.