Sunday, 27 July 2003

Japanese gadgets

Are the coolest gadgets in the world. Now for those of you who live, or have lived, in Japan, this may not be news for you. But for everyone else.

Japanese people love their toilets. Now I realise that people all over the world love their toilets as well, but I think the Japanese really love their toilets. Most households in Japan now have electronic toilet seats that look like more technologically advanced versions of Captain Kirk's seat in Star Trek. They have warming functions so you don't get a cold bottom in winter. They have have buttons that do things like shoot water upwards, waft warm air to dry everything off, and probably start world war three if you press them in the right combination. Personally I avoid anything that tries top shoot water up my arse, but the Japanese seem to love them.

But wait! What is this on the horizon? Has the perfect toilet seat been improved? What could they have done? Well, a company by the name of INAX - very big in the lavatory world - has now invented a seat that you don't have to lift up. It has a built in infrared sensor that senses when someone approaches and a small motor to automatically raise the toilet lid. All you have to do is walk up, drop your trousers and then sit down, none of this bending down to lift lid. And of course, when the business is finished, all you do is stand up, flush and walk away, no messing about with putting the lid down afterwards.

Great stuff and a much needed development to the work begun by Thomas Crapper all those years ago. Whatever will they think of next....?

Monday, 21 July 2003

Not quite right

Try as the Japanese do, they can't get everything right. So even though they tried desperately hard to have an English style grey bank holiday Monday, they blew it right at the end. Ah well.

So we got an hour of glorious sunshine just as the sun was setting. The timing was excellent as well as it coincided with me finishing studying for the day (no really) and thus I got to eat yakitori and drink beer in the sunshine on a bank holiday monday afternoon.


PS The word on the underground grapevine is that the rainy season will be over by next weekend. Fingers crossed...

Saturday, 19 July 2003

Under the weather

Because, of course, it is a bank holiday weekend over here. Monday is Umi-no-hi or holiday for the Sea, which I think is a mighty fine reason for having a national holiday - Japan after all being an island nation and eating a lot of fish. The usual plan is to get together with all your mates and go to the beach, again a mighty fine idea. Except in a stab at improved globilisation, Japan has decided to import the very British idea of 'bank holidays = bad weather' and so it will be probably be raining on monday. Oh well.
Apparently there has been a big lump of high pressure over the Sea of Japan that has been hanging around for longer than usual, making the rainy season last longer and the weather cooler - no bad thing there, you may think, but it is. Sales of air conditioners, sun block, beer and other summer goods are all down (though I'm doing my bit for the beer sales), and for a economy in a parlous state, this is not a good turn of events. And this poor weather also has a pretty negative effect of the farming industry, inhibiting the growth of fruit and veg all across Japan, which will undoubtedly lead to higher prices later in the summer.
On the upside, the threatened power blackouts have yet to happen as demand for electricity to run air con units is down. For those not in the know, TEPCO, the Tokyo Electricity Power Company has had to shut down most of its nuclear reactors as they were found to be unsafe, with potentially lethal levels of slackness in their maintenance and upkeep - with the follow on effect that Tokyo will not have enough electricity for the summer and therefore rolling power blackouts have not been ruled out. Makes you wonder, doesn't it.

But I am trying not to be negative as it has been pointed out to me that there may have been a certain amount of ranting against the Japanese going on recently. So apologies if you have felt the same way, I just try to tell it like I see it. Incidentally, Mr Konoike withdrew his comments about publically beheading parents' of errant children - I don't know, these politicians never stick by what they believe...

Anyway one cool thing I saw this week was this. On Thursday all our schools were closed and a companywide 5-a-side football tournament was arranged. A bit short notice, to be sure, but in the end we had about 30 players, including yours truly, turn up and a fine day was had by all. But the cool thing was where we played. For those of you who remember, the 2002 World Cup was half played on these shores and they built lots of nice new stadia to hold the games. One of these stadia was built not 30 minutes from where we now live in a place called Urawa-Misono. It was at this stadium that England played Sweden and the whole place is a salutary lesson in how to organise and build an impressive stadium with minimum fuss - i.e. those in charge of the Wembly/National Stadium fiasco take note.

The stadium was built just outside of Tokyo, but with a dedicated subway line meaning that most of central Tokyo is only about 40 minutes away. Also, it was built right next to a motorway, giving easy access to the road system. Also, it was built far from any residential areas, so as not to piss off the locals. This had the added benefit of more space - so not only have they built a swish, futuristic stadium, but they also have a separate full size pitch, and 2 smaller 5-a-side/futsal pitches that anyone can come along and hire. And this we did, and not only did we get the pitch, we also got clean changing rooms with working hot showers. All for about 150quid, which does not seem at all unreasonable to me. And this being Japan, even though there are huge swathes of concrete, there was not a single piece of graffiti to be seen.

So it was all pretty marvellous, if you ask me. The only problem is what will happen to it all. Like a lot of the other stadia, not a lot of thought was put into what would happen after the World Cup. It was hoped that Urawa Reds, the local J-League team, would play their home games there. But no-one actually thought to ask the Reds. They prefer their old stadium, which although smaller, creates a better atmosphere and is better placed for their fans - the result is that only about 6 games a year are played by the Reds at Urawa-Misono. Now even i can see that six games isn't going to pay the rent, or debt, and nor is hiring out the futsal pitches to English schools for 5-a-side tournaments, so heaven knows what they are going to do to make money. And I doubt very much if the other stadia built for the world cup are doing any better, which again is a real shame. However, the FA in England could do a lot worse than ask the people who organised and built these stadia to take over the Wembly situation and get a stadium built - preferably with the same ideas about location and transport access.

On a related note, the Telegraph Fantasy Football site is now up and running for the new season and a link has been added above right. This is the site from which the whole CoB Intercontiliga has sprung and which has given Steve D something to do with his afternoons for the last 4 years. For those wishing to join this happy throng, drop Steve a line on the CoB site and your applications will be vetted by committee at the earliest opportunity (written references will almost certainly be required).

PS as if anyone is interested in our performance - P6 W0 D1 L5 GF4 GA plenty

Sunday, 13 July 2003

Various things on a Sunday

It seem that over the last couple of posts I have been criticising Japan and the things that go on here. This week is different. This week I am going to criticise Japanese politicians and the really idiotic things that they say. George Bush and Tony Blair with their "Iraq has lots of really nasty weapons of mass destruction, honest, no really" don't even come close to the sort of comment that Japanese politicans come out with. Consider the evidence:

Case #1: A group of guys from a Tokyo University set up a company that organises and runs parties for university students in the Tokyo area. These parties are big, really cool and everyone has to be there. Then 5 of these guys invite some poor unsuspecting and very drunk girl to a 'behind the scenes' area of one party and gang rape her. This gets into the papers and soon more girls come forward and say it has happened to them. Seiichi Ota, of the Liberal Democratic party and member of Parliament then comments to the press that gang rape is essentially a good thing as these chaps have more 'vigour' and therefore are more likely to halt the declining birth rate in Japan.

Case #2: Again in relation to the problem of declining birth rate, a problem facing most of the western world as well as Japan. This case involves Yoshio Mori. In case you don't know, Mori was actually elected Prime Minister and served without distinction for a year or two, before going the way of most PMs in Japan. Anyway, his startling answer to the problem is to deny any kind of pension payments to Japanese women who failed to have children. That'll teach them. Doesn't matter that they may have paid all their national insurance all their working lives. They shouldn't have been at work, they should have been at home either pregnant or trying to be. Again this comment was given to the national press, without one assumes, engaging the brain before opening the mouth.

Case #3: This is my favourite. you may remember the last post in which I mentioned a 12 year old boy who allegedly murdered a 4 yr old by throwing him off the 7th floor of a car park. This happened in Nagasaki and one of the government ministers who hails from that area, Yoshitada Konoike, came out with this gem. To quote "If we can't charge the boy with the crime, then we should drag his parents around the town and then decapitate them. This will show parents the necessity of raising morally upright children". That's right folks, parade them through town and then publically behead them. Again that'll teach them. Are these people living in the dark ages? And just in case you might have thought that Mr Konoike doesn't know what he is talking about when it comes to children, he is the chairman of a government panel concerned with juvenile development and child-rearing. Oh, and don't forget, this child hasn't actually been accused of anything yet, or had a trial, or even benn arrested, he's just being questioned right now. God help the children of Japan.

Other than that, Japan is a great country and at least the trains run on where have I heard that before?


Not good news here either, I'm afraid. All the old coriander has gone the way of parents with deliquent kids (in the new Japan). Well, not all of it as the percy thrower coriander is still alive, although seem to be going the same way. The seedlings get to be about 2 inches high, then just start to flop and go pale and then slowly die. I've tried a little sun, lots of sun, a little water, lots of water, combinations of those, food, talking to them, everything, and still nothing. But, the basil is going great guns and it looks like it is going to stay. The rosemary and lavender are not doing too badly. Indeed the lavender, after a slow start, seems to have decided that it quite likes this whole growing lark and is getting into it in a big way. No flowers yet, but I reckon they are on their way. Lastly the olive tree and the coffee tree. The olive tree is still trying to do its upward thing rather than the outward thing that I would prefer. I tried the pinch out the new growth strategy, and this worked for a short while until it decided it prefered the upward thing and started again. But I have clipped it again in a vain attempt to get 'spread' - it is a battle of wills. Unlike the coffee tree, which is still making its own cobwebs and not growing. Don't know what to do about that one, but it doesn't seem to be dying, so I think I'll just leave it for the time being.


Last thing today is about Kabuki. For those not in the know, Kabuki is traditional Japanese theatre and has a reputation of being really, really dull. Well, I went to a kind of 'introduction to Kabuki' today, and so, speaking with some authority, can say that Kabuki is only quite dull. The again, I only had to endure about 90 minutes of very abridged wailing - I'm not not sure I could sit through a 'proper' 6 hour production.

It is awfully stylised stuff, with men playing women's roles and fight scenes where no-one actually touches each other. But it was bright and colourful and quite reasonably paced, so much so that it was quite like english theatre, especially as we were given a small headset that had a friendly voice telling you what was going on in English. But the most important scene (where the wife dies as she is in fact the earthly embodiment of the spirit of a willow tree that is being cut down) was so long and had so much unecessary wailing that it did give a good flavour of what a full on production would be like - really, really dull.

But hell, today I've done a bit of 'culture' - a word that would be useful for the politicians of this country to learn.

Wednesday, 9 July 2003

oh bugger

just had another one of those "write out a whole new diatribe and then just when you're about to post it you press a weird button and it all disappears" moment. Shit. May write it all again tomorrow, but the new link I added is still there. This new link is one that naturally I stumbled across after the last little rant about the short comings of Japan (newest shortcoming - 12 year old boy detained after allegedly sexually abusing a 4 year old and then throwing him off the 7th floor of a multi-story car park - what is this country coming to?).

Anyway, not everyone out there likes us foreigners (gaijin) in Japan apparently...

(PS - tonight's post that I had written was all about the plants, a request from Bert for an update. this will now appear at a later date. Sorry)

Sunday, 6 July 2003

What's wrong with Japan today...

Its things like this. An article in yesterday's Yomiuri about lorries and how there seem to be a lot more fatal accidents this year than before. A spokesman from the Department of Transport said (a government ministry, one that makes laws);

"It'll be difficult to establish a law to control the trucking industry, because the transport industry will resist it."

So if the government won't do anything to regulate industry, what hope have we got...?

This is one example. Another is the case of a manager at an agricultural collective who embezzled 17million yen from the savings of local farmers to gamble on coffee futures. A bit of embezzling, that's ok, but what makes it much much worse is the fact that when his superiors found out, they lent him another 20 million, of farmers savings, without telling anyone, in an attempt to try and recoup the money on the exceedingly dodgy Tokyo stock exchange. Only when they'd lost that and an even more superior superior found out did anyone even think about calling the police.

And that is just on a local level. Even more impressive a scam is the newly formed Resona bank, which was previously known as Asahi bank, and a couple of others. This is now in seriously deep trouble, so what do the government do? Let it go to the dogs for having such inept managers? Oh no. They decide to pump in 1.96trillion yen's worth of tax payers cash to bail them out. That is 1,960,000,000,000, or 98,000,000 quid...for a private bank. In any other country this bank would be allowed to become bankrupt, probably as soon as everyone found out they were in trouble and took out their savings.

But not in Japan. Here, not even a murmur.

Tuesday, 1 July 2003

cool gadgets

As most of you know, I am something of a techno-phobe. If it is electronic, then I like it to be nice and simple. But get this. Today was my official 'first day in the new job' and so, at about midday, a bright young Japanese thing bounds over and presents me with a box saying "here is your new mobile phone!". This is great, in my job, I will never leave the office! So they give me a mobile...And not just any mobile, it has a little ity-bity camera in it as well, as if I need one of them! (for those of you in Japan shaking your heads now and muttering things like "mine has 15 seconds of video recording on it", bugger off). This job gets better and better. Now I just have to see how long I can hang onto the phone before they ask for it back...