Sunday, 29 June 2003

Another Sunday evening

This seems to be falling into a pattern, as perhaps these things do, of a sunday evening session with a midweek update. So today's great news is that today we ate dinner laced with fresh herbs from the herb garden! Yes, an auspicious moment without a doubt. The dish was a sort of tomato and chicken stew, delicately flavoured with basil picked moments before serving. The whole thing wasn't too bad and you could actually taste the basil - I was so proud. Now all we have to do is wait for about 8 weeks until it regrows or some of the other stuff gets up to the level of edible (though that may be thwarted by hell freezing over first).

Friday was my last official day at Minami Urawa office, in honour of this occasion, I did absolutely no work. This was partly not my fault as I was in the process of handing over the reins to Chris, so I didn't really have much to do anyway, and also last week Paul told me to go down to Nishi Kasai on Friday, so I got someone else to do the training I was meant to be doing, but then Paul changed the day to Thursday, leaving me with nothing arranged for friday and therefore nothing to do. So I did nothing. The bit that is my fault, a little, is that I didn't exactly go out of my way to find anything to do either, but bugger it, I was leaving. In the evening we had a farewell party with all the office staff at a local bar called Zan, which was very trendy and we all felt cool and sophisticated...well, I did anyway. Tomoko, who deals with accomodation in the office, managed to get pretty smashed on one cocktail, this after assuring everyone that she could drink 2 bottles of wine without falling over - hmm. However Tomoko is good fun and a crowd of us are going to go sea fishing in Tokyo bay in August, organised by her husband. (I realise that 'sea' fishing in Tokyo bay doesn't quite have the Hemmingway-marlin-fishing-off-cuba kind of style to it, but you have to start somewhere). I must have got drunk at the farewell party as i ended up drinking sake. This is always a good indicator of my state as if I am sober or thereabouts, sake for me is pretty rank stuff. But with a few inside me I suddenly feel the urge to be more Japanese and thus start shouting for sake, or if I'm really drunk, shochu, which is poor man's paint stripper from southern Japan. Anyway this accounted for a nagging head on saturday. But to be 'more Japanese', I would probably be better off sticking to the beer or going onto even ranker Japanese whisky (or maybe they spell it the US way whiskey) both of which appear to be far more popular than sake these days. In a way it is a shame, but it does mean that the sake you get these days is much better quality than the gut rot that used to be available, by all accounts. Apparently little specialised sake breweries are opening up all over the show now, which is good news, and not just for the Japanese, for me too.

The one time I've had really top notch sake was when a student took me out on the piss. This was years ago and the guy was Fujino-san. He was an old guy, about 60-65 and a patent attorney for Snowbrand,who recently have had some pretty severe scandals even by Japanese standards, but in those days were a big company in the dairy products market. I thought this guy was great as he was a Japanese salary man of the old school. He lived in Kanagawa, about 2 hours from Tokyo and his lesson was on a saturday afternoon. This was thhe only time in his weekly work schedule that he could fit in an English lesson. He used to come to the lesson and basically slag off his colleagues of the younger generation for not working hard enough. He was in the office at 7 every morning and was the last to leave, past 10 every night (so he said) and couldn't understand why the younger generation weren't doing the same, if not longer hours..."they are younger than me, and they live in Tokyo. I am and old man and still I work harder than them. I fear for the company" was the gist of the first 5 minutes of every lesson, and he was right as Snowbrand now apparently does not exist, or rather it has changed its identity after the scandals alluded to earlier.

Anyway, slightly ff the point here. So, Fujino liked me as I was a teacher (major respect) and I liked a beer. There may have been more to it than that, who knows. But getting back to the original rambling, he took me out drinking one saturday after work (I expect he rationalised it by thinking it was study time, therefore he could leave his office). Usually, when you go out with students, they take you to an izakaya, or to their mistresses house for dinner (that's another story), but this guy took me to the Hotel New Otani in Akasaka, one of the most swish places in town and one which I had not expected to be taken to. With us was also the school manager, whose name I have now forgotten but I can remember she was a bit of a looker. So, up to the 20-something floor and into a bar that it would cost 20 quid to walk past, but we breeze in and its all smiles and hellos to Fujino, who is obviosly a regular. We sit and he orders sake and yakitori for the 3 of us, and this sake is absolutely sublime. Delicious, melt in the mouth, like drinking liquid velvet. Of course I drank plenty of it and can't remember too much of the evening. One thing I do remember is him sitting there with a beautific smile on his face saying nothing excpet "you are a beautiful couple" to the school mamager and I every 5 minutes, and nothing else. Heaven knows how much the evening cost as he would not let us pay, but I know that I will not be able to afford to drink there for a long time.
And I blame him for making me dislike sake as I spent the next couple of years drinking a lot of it, but much cheaper versions, which give you stinking hangovers, in an effort to rdiscover the essence of the east...or get really drunk, take your pick.

So anyway, more specialsed sake breweries mean better quality sake, and probably better quality hangovers.

I was going to harangue the Japanese banking system in today's polemic, but that will have to wait for another day. Lastly there is a new link, this one is to Thana Towers, the website of Bangkok Dave of the Olive tree fame. Nice to have you aboard Dave.

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