Sunday, December 12, 2004

Little Bit Frustrated Here...

I just got an e-mail from my supervisor, who is trying to do the paperwork to get my sword out of the country. It seems that it takes 2 weeks to process the paperwork, so I will not be able to mail my sword before I go, nor will I be able to take it with me. My only options are to leave it here, and (a) have somebody forward it to me when the paperwork clears, or (b) keep it here until I return in April.

The only problem is that I might NOT return in April. And, I don't know how much I like the idea of it not getting oiled for 4 months. I'm very frustrated right now because everything in this country takes such a long time to process ... the bureaucracy here is staggering. In any given institution here (schools, hospitals, town offices, you name it) the sheer number of office workers is amazing. You would think that things would move a little more quickly, but every time you turn around, you have to fill out a form, so perhaps it's not surprising that things take forever.

For example, it took me a full month to get my foreigner's registration card. This is a photo ID with my name and address on it. In Canada, you can imagine getting something like this in an hour or so... like renewing your driver's licence, maybe. But here it takes a month. Crazy.

Now this. I can't imagine what they are actually doing with this paperwork for one month. It sits on somebody's desk for 29 days, and on the 30th day, somebody reads it over, stamps it with 6 different stamps, photocopies it, files the copy, and sends it back to me. And like I said last time, this is to take this object OUT of the country.

I can't figure out if this whole process is in place because (a) swords are dangerous and must be controlled, or (b) swords are important cultural items and must be controlled. I have a bad feeling that someday, some lunatic is going to attack somebody with a semi-sharp iaito, and the government is going to realize, "Hey, fake swords are almost as dangerous as real swords. Let's make fake swords illegal." And then only people with "art swords" will be able to practice iai. Everyone who can't afford $5000 + swords will have to use bokuto... until another lunatic with a bokuto... ahhhh, you get the idea. Or maybe the government will start telling people, "Your sword is MUCH too important a cultural item for you to actually be using it like that. It might get damaged. Please voluntarily entrust it to us for safekeeping."

Ah well. Not feeling too charitable about the government at this moment. Argghhh.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Swords: More Trouble than they're Worth?

In Japan, owning a sword is much like owning, say, an assault rifle in some other part of the world. Because of some historical precedent, you have the right to own one, but the police would be much happier if they could all be melted down. And as it is, you have to register with them that you have one, and you have to take lots of pictures of it for when it (inevitably!) is going to be used to murder somebody. Sigh.

I just want to mail it home to Canada, but the process seems incredibly complicated. I don't really know, because my supervisor here at work has very kindly agreed to handle the paperwork (after I begged her, "Please, you've GOT to do this paperwork for me! I can't understand any of it!"). But I do know that every 20 minutes or so, she e-mails me with a terse message like, "I need the full address and name of the person you bought this from" or "Please take detailed pictures of all parts of the sword including the signature and send them express post to me at the following address" or "I need a piece of paper with your fingerprints in black ink" or "Please send me a cup with a blood sample". It's all pretty silly, especially considering that I'm trying to take this sword OUT of the country, not the other way around. Now I'm really wondering what will happen if/when I try to bring it back IN. At customs: "No problem sir. We'll just take your sword into protective custody for some time while the paperwork clears. You should be able to claim it in ... let's see... early 2008." Argh.

Anyway, 7 days left here, then it's back to Canada (unless I am suddenly offered a job in the next couple days). I applied for a job in Shikoku; that would be a nice place to live. The iaido there is basically all Jikiden, and Namitome Sensei tells me that there are many very good jodo teachers there...

In any case, I've got to cut this short. Time to work (for a change)! Over and out.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Japan Sword

I was on a quest for some Uchiko powder (for cleaning my sword), some oil, and some wiping papers, and so on the internet I found out about Japan Sword, probably of the oldest and biggest sword retailer in Tokyo. I found out their address, and off I went. I was cutting the time pretty short, but I managed to locate the store at about 4:50 (they close at 5:00pm). When I went in, I was astounded! This place is almost as amazing as the National Sword Museum - and in some ways, it's better! For example, the sword museum has mostly blades with no fittings, whereas the sword store has numerous beautiful sets of fittings, tsubas and so on. The museum has mostly long swords, while the store has blades of all shapes and sizes, and to cap it all off, the sword store has quite a few sets of armour, helmets, face masks ... all kinds of great stuff! I was like a kid in a candy shop ... a very, very expensive candy shop. So all I could do was drool, actually, but it was still really interesting.

The real killer was that I had about 5 minutes to take it all in before they kicked me out at closing time. I bought my materials, chatted with the sales staff a bit, and then pressed my face up against the glass until it was time to go. As I was leaving, I asked them how much it generally costs to have a saya made. They said depending on the length and the materials, usually about $2000... After administering the Heimlich maneuver on myself a few times, I said my thank-yous and wandered out of the store. Wow. Good thing I didn't ask how much a polish would run me.

After leaving the store, I loitered around a bit, kind of pathetically looking back into the store for a while as they shut all the lights off. For a moment, I had a daydream-fantasy kind of thing: I would work there on the weekends for free, helping any English-speaking customers find what they were looking for, and in return, the wizened old owner would gradually teach me everything he knows about swords. That seems like a reasonable trade, doesn't it? And I'd get to examine all kinds of ridiculously valuable swords up close, first hand. Hmmm...

Anyway, it seems that I am going to have to re-think the whole idea of having my sword polished and fitted with a new saya. Neither of those things are really necessary, fortunately, but they would be nice at some point. Of course, maybe I should find a job first, eh? :)