Listen up to Luke LeBlanc

Guitar. Check. Harmonica. Check. Voice. Check. College degree. Almost. This Macalester senior has the talent to make a name for himself.

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Guitar. Check. Harmonica. Check. Voice. Check. College degree. Almost.

This Macalester senior has the talent to make a name for himself.

Luke LeBlanc has been playing music for almost half his life. At age 13, he won the 2009 Dylan Days singer songwriter contest, with his Song for Bob.”

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 10.33.40 AMSince that precocious start, he’s played at South By Southwest, opened for big acts, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Delbert McClinton, and Phil Solem of the Rembrandts. He’s released two CDs, First Rail and New Orleans Bound, plus a new EP out this month.

LeBlanc is young and has learned more about what works and what flops. He’s ditched the turkey feather in his cap. Dropped his Little Diamonds stage name. Those theatrical touches distracted from LeBlanc’s strength, his voice, which Star Tribune music critic Jon Bream and others have compared to a young John Prine. The 22-year-old musician is wisely moving ahead using his own name, a simpler, more appealing brand.

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Luke LeBlanc and John Richardson at the Hat Trick Bar

These days, the Economics major squeezes in gigs around school work, performing with keyboardist John Richardson, violinist Laurie Melting, and blues harmonica player Stacy Bowen at local coffeeshops, brewpubs, and bars, along with non-traditional venues– a church, Greek restaurant and library.

At the East Side Freedom Library, LeBlanc is part of a April 21st Music and Movements program tracing the roots of protest folk music from 1960s to today.

Folk music comes naturally to LeBlanc, who grew up in North Minneapolis listening to Johnny Cash and Hank Snow with his dad, Duke Sopiwnik. At age 11, LeBlanc inherited an old guitar from his grandfather, then taught himself to play. He’s been writing his own songs since he started playing, using his talented voice to tell his own stories. Listen to Luke LeBlanc and you’ll hear the sound of potential, tunes worth tracking.

As college graduation nears, LeBlanc knows he’ll continue pursuing music. For now, he’s focused on his April 29th EP release, Time on My Hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Minnesota women have equal rights?

It’s been decades since the Equal Rights Amendment almost became law. Now, there’s a new push to pass the ERA.

Are women equal? The question seems ludicrous. Of course we are equal. Except, we aren’t. Women don’t have equal rights under the law. Not in our state. Not in our country. We still haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment, a clear and simple statement, first introduced in Congress in 1923, then re-introduced in 1971.

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

By 1972, the ERA, that simple statement of equality, had passed both the House and Senate. Once 38 states ratified the amendment, it would become the law of the land. So why isn’t ERA the law? Thirty-five states ratified it, three states short. What went wrong?

An anti-feminist named Phyllis Schlafly churned up fears about the ERA’s supposed dangers. She insisted that the amendment giving women equality would diminish housewives, force women to be drafted, wreck employment law, and lead to co-ed bathrooms.

A clear-eyed lawyer dismantled what she called the four “horribles,” the four fears that Schlafly and others opponents spewed. That lawyer, Columbia University’s first tenured woman law professor, was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her 1973 article for the American Bar Association Journal, “The Need for the Equal Rights Amendment” points out that horrible fears Schlafly spread in the 70s had already been answered in the 1920s, when Congress first introduced the ERA.

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RBG, in the Sept 1973 American Bar Association Journal

It’s been 25 since Ginsburg presented her cogent arguments for the ERA. As a fearless Supreme Court justice, RBG has risen as a role model and champion for countless women and men. So, if women like Ginsburg can achieve the Supreme Court, aren’t we already equal? Consider the words of one of Ginsburg’s colleagues, now-deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Asked why he voted against Lily Ledbetter’s petition for fair pay, Scalia said, “The Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex, thus I was under no constitutional obligation to do so.”

Scalia said it plainly enough. “The Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex.” The Constitution and amendments specifically mention male citizens, race, religion and country of origin, for example. So all those specifically named groups and characteristics get strict scrutiny in courts;. Gender discrimination doesn’t get the same level of legal protection. We need the ERA.

Now, almost fifty years since the 1970’s oh-so-close ERA drive, there’s a renewed push to pass the amendment. Here in Minnesota, Heather Allison leads ERA-MN, which is lobbying to get the Equal Rights Amendment on our state ballot as well as continuing to push for final ratification nationally. She’ll be at East Side Freedom Library on Monday, April 16, for Equal Means Equal, a documentary on the status of women in America, and conversation about what’s happening with Minnesota’s ERA campaign. Minnesota ratified the ERA in 1973. Allison and others hope Minnesotans will vote yes for the ERA again. This time, Minnesota’s ERA has updated language:

Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender.”

Fourteen simple words that say so much, making equality for all the law. Fourteen words that would make it easy to answer a basic question, Are women equal?

Let’s give Ruth Bader Ginsburg the final word:

The equal rights amendment, in sum, would dedicate the nation to a new view of the rights and responsibilities of men and women. It firmly rejects sharp legislative lines between the sexes as constitutionally tolerable. Instead, it looks toward a legal system in which each person will be judged on the basis of individual merit and not on the basis of an unalterable trait of birth that bears no necessary relationship to need or ability.”

MONDAY, April 16, 7:00 PM  Equal Means Equal: Do MN women have equal rights? View Equal Means Equal, a documentary about women’s status in America, and hear Heather Allison, president of ERA-MN, about efforts to get the Equal Rights Amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution and nationally at East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. info@eastsidefreedomlibrary.org 651-230-3294   

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Hiroshima’s window to history

This week, a Los Alamos museum blocked a traveling exhibit from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The U.S. museum rejected the Japanese exhibit because it advocated abolishing nuclear weapons. (U.S. museum stalls Hiroshima exhibit.)

Last fall, I visited Hiroshima, and looked through the  somber windows of history. I stood by the bombed remains of the Atomic Dome, a brick building located almost directly at ground zero, that somehow remained standing when every person in that domed building died instantly, and every nearby structure was destroyed.

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I stared at the gaping windows and airy dome. Birds flitted about, landing easily atop the exposed roof. How could this skeletal structure, built in 1915, have withstood a nuclear bomb?

The two atomic bombs our country dropped on Japan ended World War II and saved the lives of countless American troops.  It’s impossible to know the precise death toll, but updated reports estimate that 190,000 people died at Hiroshima, including 80,000 people who died immediately. Another 70,000 people died in Nagasaki.

After Nagasaki, the U.S. has never used nuclear weapons. Now, though, our president and some of his advisors threaten to unleash pre-emptive nuclear war against North Korea. Loose words from people who don’t seem to understand the horror of atomic bombs.

The traveling exhibit that the Los Alamos museum rejected would have brought clothes, broken plates and other personal items from victims. Those mundane items help tell the story of what nuclear war means.

In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I and other visitors stood silently, staring at scorched and frayed objects. A rusted tricycle a toddler had been riding when the bomb hit. Shinichi Tetsutani was three years, eleven months old on August 6, 1945. His father buried Shinichi with his tricycle in their backyard. Later, when the toddler was reburied in the family grave, his father donated the tricycle to the peace park.

The exhibits tell about a third grade boy who died, wearing this faded tan jacket with the upright collar. A girl who didn’t recognize her badly burned father and brother crawling past her on the street. It’s hard to look at ordinary items, reminders of the world’s most potent weapons. Seeing a tricycle, a schoolboy’s frayed jacket, makes history real.

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I didn’t take photos inside the museum. Instead, I wiped away tears,  took notes, drawing rough sketches, a simple attempt to remember history. I wanted to remember what I saw, what nuclear weapons can do. I heard the choked sobs and sniffling of other adults. I noticed school groups, some students looking uncomfortable, others, trying to tune out, looking at their phones.

I read how Japanese high school students lobbied to save the Atomic Dome building. Adults wanted to demolish the damaged Dome, to hide a scar from the painful past. Students prevailed. Since 1996, the Dome has been listed as a World Heritage site. It’s a place people from around the world can see history.  

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Students at Hiroshima Peace Park

Japanese people know the history and power of atomic warfare. Does our president understand that history? Do enough Americans know what nuclear war means? I had the chance to look into the windows of history at Hiroshima, thinking  about the past and worrying about the future.

If the Los Alamos museum won’t accept the Hiroshima and Nagasaki traveling exhibit, I hope another U.S. museum will rise to the occasion and welcome the traveling exhibit. You don’t need to travel to learn history, but all of us– school kids, ordinary citizens, and even presidents– do need to read, listen, and learn about the past. We need to look into the windows of history.

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Russian dolls, doping and dirty secrets

I watched a documentary about sports doping last night and am still scared.

icarus_282017_film29Like a Russian nesting doll, Icarus is stuffed with more than it first appears. This year’s Oscar documentary winner starts as a simple story of an amateur bicyclist, Bryan Fogel, documenting his experiment with doping. It seems like a sporty version of Supersize Me, but instead of eating McDonalds every day, Fogel  injects himself with performance enhancing drugs. He gets advice on how to cheat from a master, the head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov.

As the action moves to Russia, Icarus turns dark. It’s not one cyclist’s tale of scamming urine tests. Instead, the documentary delves into how Russia masterfully subverted Olympic sports, stealing victories and medals.

Watching the layers of intrigue about Russia’s sports doping, I tensed up, my mind spinning from sports to politics. The nesting doll of sports doping revealed Russia’s intricate maneuvers to get what it wants. Putin wanted a weak man, not a strong woman, in the White House.

Consider a few layers of our electoral Russian nesting doll:

  • Trump’s dependence on Russian money
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, earned millions of dollars lobbying for a Russian-friendly political party in the Ukraine, and supposedly got more than $12 million dollars in secret cash payments from Ukrainian politician
  • New reports reveal that the one of Manafort’s key business associates, whom the New York Times calls, “his right hand man in Kiev,” had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, including during the 2016 election when that former spy was in close communication with Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates
  • Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm that sucked up 50 million Facebook users’ profiles while working for the Trump campaign, also had ties to Russia, and by the way, was launched in part by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief political strategist.

It’s no wonder that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still digging into the nested layers between Russia, Trump’s campaign, and this administration. Mueller already charged Manafort and Gates with conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes for hiding money they got for their Ukraine lobbying.

Delving into Russia’s secrets is dangerous. Icarus shows Rodchenko fleeing his country and spilling doping secrets to the New York Times, in a calculated bid to save his own life. Meanwhile, one of Rodchenko’s colleagues back in Russia dies mysteriously. The documentary notes that Russians are supposedly still searching for Rodchenkov. His future seems grim. I think of the former Russian spy and his daughter in England, poisoned with a toxic nerve agent that only Russia controls.

Putin injected poisons into our body politic, funneling money to the NRA, spreading lies, distortion and dissent with help from Facebook and  Cambridge Analytica, aided also by our own country’s toxic stew of sexism, racism and cynical political campaigning.

Russia doesn’t want its secrets revealed, be they sports doping or election tampering. Still, we  have enough evidence to know: Russia doped its athletes. Russia interfered with our election. Russia also likely meddled in the Brexit vote.  It’s as if Russia has doped the world, just as it doped its athletes.

U.S. intelligence leaders warn that Russia will again try to hack upcoming elections. Our weak president, seemingly in awe or fear of Putin, refuses to acknowledge Russia’s interference. 

Icarus chillingly showed how far Russia will go to win gold medals. We’re still learning what Russia might have done to grab the most coveted gold medal, our White House. Will our democracy be strong enough to recover from Russia’s political poisoning?

Mystery, music, micro-cinemas

This Thursday, ditch your routine and treat yourself to a free, fresh evening of spirited local music, short videos and light snacks at East Side Freedom Library, 7:30 pm – 9 pm.

The night starts with new music from All That, a recent addition to the Twin Cities music scene, then the mood turns to mystery, the theme of the night’s screenings.  

The movies are short– twelve minutes max. In just 40 minutes, you’ll get to see eleven videos, all but one from Minnesota artists, including last year’s Creative Vision Award winner at the Altered Esthetics Film Festival.

Check out this sample of Thursday’s screening, and see you at the library for a lively night of indie art. THURSDAY, March 8, 7:30 PM MicroCinema #2: Mystery Vessel at East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. info@eastsidefreedomlibrary.org 651-230-3294

There’s still a few days to submit short experimental films and video art for this year’s Altered Esthetics Film Fest, May 31-June 2 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. Altered Esthetics received a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

 

Seeing shadows of history

I stand still, counting footprints. I’m staring at a black and white photograph, footprints planted in concrete, some firm, others faded to scant shadows.

The footprints and photograph are from Manzanar, one of ten remote western U.S. sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. Under Franklin Roosevelt, our government forcibly removed some 120,000 Americans because of their heritage, not their actions.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-veIn 2014, Minneapolis artist John Matsunaga went to Manzanar to see where his grandfather had been locked up. Everyone in Matsunaga’s family– his mother, father, aunts and uncles– had been incarcerated. For years afterwards, the family didn’t talk about what happened. Within two years, Matsunaga visited all ten incarceration camps. “It started out as personal, and then expanded out,” he said. The 46-year-old artist began thinking about “What do people know and what do they not know about what was happening.” The trips became a kind of pilgrimage, allowing him to absorb history not just through books, but by breathing in dust in arid desert camps, bakingly hot in summer, bitingly cold in winter.

It was often a solitary exercise, “ kind of meditative, kind of sad.”  Although all the incarceration sites have some kind of federal recognition, Matsunaga said he was often the only person at a camp. “I’d think, how many people really come to see this?” Matsunaga shifted from reflecting on the past to thinking about what’s happening in the U.S. now, with government efforts to ban Muslims and other people based on their nationality. “I don’t think it’s my place to speak for Muslim Americans,” Matsunaga said, “but the restriction of civil rights has parallels in the past.”

At East Side Freedom Library, where Matsunaga’s photo exhibit is on display through February 24, he points to the footprints photograph and says, “For me, it’s about this trace, I’m showing you a presence, but it’s really showing what’s not there.”

What’s also not there are labels. Matsunaga admits he wants to frustrate viewers by not explaining his artwork with easy-to-digest labels by each photo so viewers can scan the caption and walk on. Matsunaga points out that the photos are a fine art project, his thesis at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, not a public history class. His stark photographs don’t tell any one person’s story, instead, they’re designed make people feel something– dissatisfaction, anxiety, the loss of not knowing.

The photos challenge visitors to think about what’s seen and unseen, what they know or have forgotten about a shameful period of American history. What had once made a deep impression, a solid footprint in history is worn smooth with time.

One photo shows a dilapidated wordless sign strewn on the hard-baked dirt, no clues about what the sign was meant. Another photo focuses on  the hollow shell of a collapsed baseball, stitching frayed, curled into itself, holding nothing more substantial than crumbles of dirt and gravel. The ball’s shadow is bigger than the physical object. Many of Matsunaga’s black and white images include shadows, the remains of what had been.

Matsunaga knows that in time, no one will remain who had lived in these camps. The first-hand knowledge of what happened in the incarceration will be gone, just as his grandfather, and more recently an aunt and uncle, have died. What remains will be physical remnants, shreds of signs signifying little– and our knowledge, our memories of seeing, reading, hearing, knowing how our government locked up more than 110,000 Americans not because they had committed any crime, but because of who they were.

In 1988, Congress formally acknowledged  that the incarceration was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Given today’s political leadership, decades of wars, and ongoing racial prejudice, this sobering exhibit and three upcoming programs are  necessary viewing. The exhibit’s title bears remembering as well: Nidoto Nai Yoni, Let It Not Happen Again.

Nidoto Nai Yoni: Forgetting and Remembering the Wartime Incarceration of Japanese Americans, on display through February 24 at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul.

All are welcome to these upcoming East Side Freedom Library events about this exhibit:

Saturday, February 10, 1 – 3 pm, Discussion Panel, Experiences of Wartime Displacement, Dispossession, and Confinement: The Japanese American Incarceration and Beyond

Saturday, February 17, 1 – 3 pm, Artists Panel, Representing and Resisting Historical Injustices through Art

Monday, February 19, 7 – 9 pm, Film Screening and Discussion, And Then They Came for Us (2017), a film by Abby Ginzberg and Ken Schneider                               

Japanese Style, An A to Z Guide of Attention to Detail

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YArrows on painted on sidewalks or floors of tourist attractions or crowded train stations steer walkers in the right direction, and prevent unnecessary jostling on stairs or other crowded areas. 

 

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Baskets tucked under chairs in coffee shops and restaurants provide a tidy spot for patrons to stow bags, purses, and coats. Belongings don’t spill sloppily over chairs or touch the floor.

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YColor Hunting, the Japanese expression for leaf peeping, is a national sport. Judging from the many shrines and temples with trees arrayed so their leaves compose an autumn rainbow of reds, oranges, and yellows, Japan earns the gold medal in color hunting.

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YDust doesn’t stand a chance in germaphobe Japan. Each night at closing time, store clerks at little shops and big department stores drape cloth over merchandise to guard against dust. 

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YEggs, hard-boiled, come pre-seasoned and seemingly, almost buttered through the shell.  This Japanese recipe involves soaking boiled eggs in a salty brine for 24 hours or more. It takes loads more salt to flavors eggs this way, but taste a Japanese egg, and you may find it’s worth the sodium. Eggs-cellent idea!

 

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Fortune, good luck talismans dangle from purses and backpacks and adorn doorways and corners. Smiling Buddhas, waving cats, owls and frogs are some of the many engimono, lucky charms, marshalled to herald good fortune. Superstitions pop up often: Odd numbers are good; even numbers are unlucky because they can be divided. Not much is left to chance.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YGardens are as precisely designed as every other treasured art form. Trees, grasses, moss, sand, and stone are arranged to create harmonious landscapes. Japan’s respect for nature shows in its many descriptive words which English lacks: Kogarashi, leaf-wilting wind; shinrinyoku, forest bath komorebi, sunlight filtering through trees; ; and mono no aware, the fleeting nature of beauty. 

95686-201505.zoom.aHello Kitty looms larger than Godzilla in Japan. Sanrio’s cute cartoons should nibble on caviar cat-chow, considering that the franchise nabs nearly a billion dollars in worldwide sales each year. Need a toaster to imprint Hello Kitty on your morning toast? How about individually wrapped Hello Kitty prunes? Flip pancakes with a heart-shaped Hello Kitty spatula!

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YInemuri, to be asleep while present, is socially acceptable  napping in trains, classrooms and other public places. A Japanese friend insists that people never sleep on trains. Instead, she says, they’re simply closing their eyes to meditate and seek solitude in crowded spaces. Ohmm.

japan, a lowercase word meaning lacquerware. What other country can boast its name is also an artform? japanning, a 17th century term first used in Europe, describes the art of varnishing metal, wood and other surfaces in the renowned Japanese way.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YKawaii, the Japanese word for cuteness and the appetite for that cuteness, sums up a national obsession that’s gone global. In Japan, kawaii is ubiquitous, from adorable baked goods shaped like bears, cotton-candy soft sweaters with fuzzy pockets and 12th century Scrolls of Frolicking Animals featuring manga-like rabbits, frogs and monkeys. A museum exhibit in Tokyo, the Untamed Mind, explains kawaii as Japan’s love of things natural, spiritual, and playful.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YLeaf cleaning doesn’t require a rake in Japan. A young guy at a Tokyo car-wash used a pair of tongs, the kind Americans use to BBQ, to patiently remove one leaf at a time from a narrow channel along the sidewalk where water from the car wash would flow. At public gardens, workers rhythmically swept leaves with rustic twig brooms, as if they were doing tai chi. A custodian outside a popular shrine ignored the set of twig brooms in his cart in favor of a loud leaf blower. Piles of ways to remove leaves so gardens, doorways, and even car wash sidewalks look meticulous.

20171101_173126Manners matter, at the table, on the street, really, every part of Japanese life. At restaurants, the first items servers offer are hot towels for guests to clean their hands. Before the first bite, even at a snack stand, it’s polite to give thanks for the food by quietly saying, “Itadakimasu,” “I humbly receive.” After eating, it’s custom to say “Gochisousama” — thank you for the delicious meal. One more etiquette tidbit: It’s rude to offer tips to a server, bellhop, or taxi driver. 

“No tattoos” Don’t try to go to a public hot bath if you’ve got tattoos. Inked skin is considered a sign of the Yakuza, Japanese mafia, so tattoos convey an unsavory reputation. Hot spas’ websites and walls include numerous “No tattoo” warnings.

Onsen, Google onson, Japan’s hot spa baths,  and you may see this prompt, “How do you take a bath in Japan?” Japanese people rinse their bodies before they enter baths. Immerse yourself in the Official Tokyo Travel Guide’s pool of facts about the correct way to bathe

20171030_074208Punctuality appears to be a national past-time. Omnipresent clocks in parks, malls, and other public places help people stay fashionably on schedule. Even young kids wear watches. Note, punctuality does not mean being early. When a Tokyo train left 20 seconds ahead of schedule, it made national news. The company apologized for “the tremendous nuisance.” 

Quiet.That’s the sound you’ll hear in Japan’s airports, trains, busy streets and cafes. People talk softly and are far less likely to gab on cell phones in public. TVs and radios don’t blare at every airport terminal, restaurant and mall. Intentional sounds of silence. 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YRules, tacit and written, structure life in Japan.Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:Y A cute sign at a local Tokyo playground warns children about ten potential hazards of the swings and slide. “Never play with your jacket flapping.” “Don’t play on equipment wearing a backpack. Never use the play structure when it is wet. Never tie any rope or string to the play structure….” Remember to play by the rules!

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Synchronized cleaning, epitomized by Japanese Railway crews whose coordinated cleaning routines keeps bullet trains rolling on schedule. The crews perform in team colors, women in peach, men in light blue, wrist watches pinned to their smocks. Once passengers step off a JR train, crews sweep in, each worker intent on his or her task: remove fabric headrest covers, flip seats forward, smooth fresh headrest covers in place, sweep and bag debris. When the train car passes inspection, the crew gathers and bows. As they leave, each worker methodically touches the right, then left, then right, frame of the train’s door. Once the synchronized show ends, the next set of passengers, in an orderly queue on the platform, quickly boards and the train departs, spruced up and on time.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YToilets, Japanese style, include more buttons and settings than some microwaves I’ve used. Most toilets feature at least three options: a gush of warm water, with choices for temperature and flow, to rinse the front and back of a person’s seat; air, again with controls for temperature and flow, to blow-dry wetness; and chimes, burbling water or gentle melodies, to muffle any unpleasant noises that might occur while going to the bathroom. The water and air wash and dry bodies better than toilet paper, but it’s another element of Japanese toilets that wowed me. Heated seats. As I write this, clenched in a sub-zero Minnesota winter, I long for the warmth of those seats. I need to go back to Japan. Soon.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YUniforms  So many matching outfits! Students, starting in kindergarten, are easy to spot in identical shirts, shorts, pants or skirts, sweaters, coats, hats, and backpacks. School kids aren’t the only whose clothes signal their role. Trains full of ordinary workers dress almost in unison: Men in white shirts and dark trousers, often with jackets and ties; even cab drivers wear suits. Women dress in dark skirts with muted tops. Casual Fridays are a foreign concept. On Saturdays, many students don school uniforms headed to cram schools. In three weeks, I saw just one Japanese woman in a revealing outfit. Modesty is the uniform for all.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YVending machines dispense cold and hot coffee, soft drinks, cigarettes, candy and even batteries in Japan. Yet despite the convenience of 5.5 million sidewalk vending machines, few Japanese eat or drink as they walk. Noshing or sipping on the go is considered poor manners. Japanese people bring their tasty and cheap can of vending machine coffee where they can sit and drink properly then bring the empty can home. Trash cans are rare on Japanese streets. People are expected to be responsible for their own trash, instead of ditching it in public.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YWashi, the craft of Japan’s handmade paper traces back at least 1,300 years and makes UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This ultra thin paper has been used for ledgers and stationery, lanterns, umbrellas, window panels and paper mache dolls. Washi is resistant to bugs, water and rips. Crafting handmade paper one sheet at a time is a painstaking process, truly. Papermakers’ hands are plunged in chilly water for hours. No wonder one craftsman says it’s hard to find young people who want to make washi. They’d rather work with computers than have chronically cold, wet hands.

X doesn’t exist in any of Japan’s three alphabets: Kanji, pictographs of characters, originally from Chinese; Romaji, the Romanized version of Japanese; and Kana, the combination of two phonetic alphabets, Hiragana, for Japanese words, and Katakana, mostly words borrowed from other languages. X-tra credit if you can keep that straight. 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YYellow sidewalk strips snake along entire blocks of Japanese city sidewalks and through train stations, offering a tactile guide for people who are blind or have vision problems. The bright bumpy paths are another harbinger of Japan’s intentional efforts to shepherd all who live or visit here.  

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YZoto, Japanese gift giving, isn’t just for holidays, birthdays, and weddings. Presents are also given in mid-July, in mid-December (to co-workers or bosses); after New Year’s (to children). Japanese people are expected to bring back souvenirs, omiyage, anytime they take even a short trip. Those who receive gifts are expected to reciprocate, giving a smaller gift, okaeshi, to show their thanks. All gifts should be nicely wrapped, except for money, which is folded three times and placed in special envelopes, noshibukuro. Decorum requires specific kinds of envelopes for different gift-giving occasions, just as there are different kinds of wrapping, and different numbers and colors of wrapping strings for presents based on the various kinds of gifts one is giving. Did I mention there are different kinds of knots for the strings around presents, also based on what kind of gift? Just remember, if you’re going to Japan, bring gifts. And expect to get gifts in return. You’re welcome! 

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