Thursday, 23 December 2004

after thinking about it for a while, I'm not going to write about what I was going to write about. It was pregnancy stuff with the guru that is not, I think, for public consumption just yet. Don't worry though, everything is fine and the regular check-up yesterday was like clockwork - well, inasmuch as the guru was left staring at the clock in the hospital for most of the day whilst waiting for appointments, almost nhs-like in the amount of time it took, but the doctor said everything was ok, so that's cool. So onto other business.

The weekend

Last weekend was a busy one, what with not studying but going out for various parties and the like. Friday, being the last official friday in the office, was designated 'Pub Crawl night' and was organised by computer and erstwhile Tokyo nightlife bon vivant Chris, who, apparently, knows a bit about bars around central Tokyo.

So, first stop was What the Dicken's? in Ebisu. Personally I like the Dickens. It's big, it's dark and it serves decent enough beer in pints rather than odd Japanese glass sizes (and, interestingly, it is housed in a building that was, once, the Tokyo HQ of the Aum Shinrikyu cult that did the subway gas attack). Anyway we pitched up there at about 8 and tucked into a few pints and some of their rather good food. Drinking games followed in which Shigetaka, a japanese computer person of reasonable english ability outperformed a number of native english speakers (though not yours truly), including one Australian female known for her ability with the bottle (though not, now, her ability with Australian drinking games). From here it was to Enjoy! House in Ebisu we decamped. This is a crushed-velvet 70s heaven that was, strangely, empty on a Friday night. But is was pleasant, in a kitsch way, and a few more drinks (back to strange Japanese glass sizes) were downed.

So far so good. Then the first hitch - someone else was on the way to meet us and so we had to stop and wait, outside Wendy's for them firstly to arrive, and then for them to buy something to eat. With hindsight we should have gone back to Enjoy! House and waited there, but no, it was only for a few moments after all. Personally I am of a mind that you are either there for the start of a pub crawl, or the end, but let's have none of this buggering about waiting for people in the middle, eh?

30 minutes later we set off for the next place. I can't remember the name as, once inside, waiter chap said something along the lines of "8 of you, no chance". Ok, no problem, off to Daikanyama where there about 3 bars we are going to visit. Stroll stroll stroll and pitch up at a place called '4'. I was first in with another chap - once again "2 no problem, 8? You must be joking!" It was a small place, fair enough. You can guess what happened at the other 2 bars...

OK, rapidly sobering up, we'll head to "Soft" in Shibuya, which is in the basemant of some building. Get there, down the stairs, looks promising as there's no queue outside. Open the door of the "contemporary british pub" and we are assaulted by wailing. Peering around the door we see, on stage, a woman, some hitech looking AV stuff, lots and video screens. The "contemporary british pub" is an all white inside affair with red vinyl accoutrements and is having an evening of performance art - weird wailing woman with video, or somesuch nonsense. That'll be two grand door charge to you, thanks very much...

So, moving off we "must be able to get a drink at Bar Aoyama, they're always open" says Chris. The entrance to Bar Aoyama is a three inch steel door set into a concrete embankment on the busy Roppongi-dori. Apparently it is a bit of a rock music dive (fine by me, but Chris is a techno person) which lets in anyone and everyone. Except, of course, 8 wanderers who have now not had a drink for around an hour and a half and some of whom are getting testier by the minute. It wasn't as if this place turned us away, we couldn't even open the door...

And finally, we ended up at the Pink Cow in Shibuya. Thank god that it a) was open b)was pretty empty and c) had a good sense of humour because as soon as we turned up everyone headed to the toilet. By this time it was nearly 11 so a couple of swift pints and then head off to get the last train home, which I just managed to do but was cutting it very fine - indeed, had the pub crawl been more successful and I been more drunk, I probably would have given up and got a taxi from Ikebukuro, but being relatively sober I could actually work out how to get home using the trains. Also, as this was the last train it was absolutely packed, as only a train in Tokyo can be, and this inward pressure on my body was matched by an outward pressure in my bladder which wasn't helped by the queue for the bogs at Kawaguchi station.

In the end it was all crawl and not enough bleeding pub!

Next time Chris is not allowed to organise this. His excuse was that he had done a 'dry' run a month or two before and it was fine, but that was with only 2 people so of course it would be ok. Also, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see - last weekend before christmas, well that's always going to be busy and, don't forget (though we did) it was winter bonus day, so not only did we have to contend with the usual Friday night revellers, also Japan Inc. Salaryman was spending his bit of the bonus before his wife got her hands on it. Ah well, better luck next time.

This led into Sunday, which was another christmas party, this time a company sponsored one. In keeping with the spirit of the season we went to a Hawaiian/Polynesian bar called Tiki Tiki in Shinjuku. This place was an odd mix, which is pretty much how you can describe most bars in tokyo, as we had Polynesian decor, grass skirted Japanese waitresses, french red wine, chinese (i think) food and a bunch of English people - in the next door room to ours there was a wedding reception with bingo! Prior to going here a couple of us had met up in the Dubliners (surprisingly an Irish bar) for a few and we retired there after our 2-3 hour all you can eat and drink extravaganza had finished. It was after this that I waddled/staggered home and ended up playing backgammon with big p until 2am - three quarters cut and unable to focus properly on the playing board. The score was indeed 10-5 but, interestingly, whilst big p was sober heading towards drunk he beat me 10-0, but by the time he arrived in the same state as me, I won 0-5. Food for thought there, I think.

Then on Monday it was leaving drinks for Helen, who is off to have a baby in February and from whom I will be taking over next year whilst she is away on maternity leave. So, again in the spirit of the weekend, after (sort of) visiting various bars on Friday and Irish and Polynesian on Sunday, we went to a Mexican place for Margueitas (I have no idea about the spelling). And that was that, now christmas is here the drinking can really get started.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

things have been afoot, will write on Thursday, which is a national holiday (the emperor's birthday, no less)

Monday, 13 December 2004

Time to come clean...

Spring cleaning doesn't really happen in Japan, rather they go for winter and new year cleaning, which somehow seems a bit more appropriate, out with the old, in with the new, that sort of thing. I know this as on the news this evening they showed the good monks of Tsuruoka Hachimangu, which is a jolly famous old temple in the old capital Kamakura, giving the old shrine (or maybe temple) a jolly good going over with their bamboo brushes, which is called susuharai (lit trans. sweep the dust). Of course it woould be far too sacrilegious (which doesn't look right no matter how you spell it) to suggest that the monks might like to try a more effective way to clean their shrine, such as using a big hose pipe or something, but no, a few bamboo leaves tied to the end of a pole have been good for a thousand years so why stop now? (not the same leaves tied to the same pole, I think, they were remarkably green and spry looking if they were...) This cleaning is big stuff in Japan in December and I suspect that every house, temple and shrine in the country is doing the same (though you'd be hard pushed to notice in this apartment). I suppose that traditionally the Japanese were able to to this all in December as the weather is so good. OK, yesterday was wet and grey and miserable, but so far we have been having a beautiful autumn and early winter. Mt Fuji has been on show for a month or so now, pollution notwithstanding, and so on the windy days it is standing proud and erect in the distance, capped with the usual white dome of snow. Having said that, the colours of autumn don't seem to have been quite so vivid this year, so who knows, perhaps they need a really cold snap to get the chlorophyll really into gear (or whatever it is the trees make to change the leaves - answers not required, thank you).

The Japanese are very free and easy with their temples and shrines, none of this "this here is ma church and I'll be damned all to hell if I'll step into any other" kind of nonsense. Luckily different shrines and temples are good, if that's the right word, for different things. Naturally you have your own local temple or shrine, where you do your everyday praying and the like, but say, for example, you want to do well in your GCSE equivalent exams, well then off you toddle to Yushima Tenjin and do a spot of praying for good luck, hard study and an almost fanatical devotion to homework. However should you want to glorify fallen soldiers and war criminals then only Yasukuni Jinja will really do, or, more peacefully, if it's a pregnant wife and/or a healthy and safe pregnancy you want, then the two of you better visit Suitengu in downtown Nihombashi, where no doubt we will be off to in the near future. Very laissez-faire, this attitude to religion in Japan, as I feel I may have written somewhere before, but it just seems something that they do very well here so it is worth noting again.

On other more mundane matters, I have have mentioned, somewhere, that assignment 3 of the masters was sent off at the end of October. This one was quite interesting as it was a good opportunity to have a go at the marketng department at work who are, essentially, crap. Indeed, in a somewhat bewildering move, when other departments are losng staff to cut costs, the head of marketing was recently promoted to deputy MD even though the MD doesn't think he's very good at his job either, which means that not only does he get a pay rise etc, but someone else has to be recruited to head the dept, meaning more cash being spent. Oh well, there goes another foreigner out of the company to balance the books. Oops, little sidetracked there. Anyway assignment three came back this week with a provisional mark of 73! Another 'A', which surprised me even more than assignment two. I say provisional as this assignment was sent off to an external examiner, to keep the leicester crew honest. Today it came back with a mark of 70, which though a little lower is still pretty damn good and I am more than happy and this cheered me up no end. (Which mark is the official one, I wonder, or is it both?). Part of the assignment is to make recommendations about how things can be improved, which I have naturally passed onto my superiors in the hope that they might take some notice - fat chance, I know, but you've got to try these things.

Assignment four reading is now well under way, this time about The Curriculum and its management. Nope, I don't have much of an idea about this one at the moment either, which is worrying as for the others I had at least some inkling of what sort of things I wanted to look at, if not a concrete plan. But so far with this one, nothing. I'm desperate for one of Terry Pratchetts's ions of inspiration to come hurtling through space and smack me in the cerebellum on the way to work tomorrow...(pleeeeaaassse)

The plants are throttling back or winter in a big way now. I found some mint growing wild near here and took a couple of cuttings which seem to have taken quite well. Indeed mint could well be the rocket of the herb world....ah...rocket is probably the rocket of the herb world, isn't it? Hmm, ok, mint is probably the moving upwards in a very quick manner like an intercontinental ballistic missle of the herb world. It's doing well, hasn't succumbed to anything yet and smells minty. My sage, on the other hand, isn't happy once again. Anyone got any advice about growing sage? Mine just seems to do quite well but then the leaves just start withering and going black, cue end of sage. Olive tree, like the mint, is doing well, with new growth and branches everywhere, thank goodness for the olive tree, tough old bugger, that tree. The rosemary sometimes looks ok, then again sometimes looks sorry for itself, still, it s grwoing a little, whilst the chili plants seem to have decided that winter isn't for them so they look poorly, yellow patches to the leaves, but hanging in there...just.

Monday, 6 December 2004

Society (again)

One thing I noticed this week is sort of a follow up to something I wrote a week or two back. Then it was about the inherent crapness of the Japanese news media in that they didn't seem to be reporting about a manga artist and the pressure he was put under by right wing groups when they [the media] should have been. Similar thing cropped up this week.

A few years ago now there was the strange case of Lucie Blackman, who was out here working as a hostess. Generally speaking hostesses are not prostitutes, they merely pour drinks for stressed/immature Japanese salarymen, be nice to them, light their cigarettes and listen to them drone on about how nobody understands them. For this the hostesses get very well paid and so it is a lucrative line of business, especially for a foreign hostess who can earn a pot of cash in three months and then disappear on holiday for the rest of the year. Lucie Blackman was doing this around 1999 or 2000 when she fell in with an unpleasant chap by the name of Joji Obara who, it is alledged, drugged, raped and then murdered her, dumping her body in a cave near his house on the Miura peninsula, south of Tokyo.

Anyway the point here is that this week Lucie's father was in Tokyo to see the first steps in the trial of this unpleasant chap who is accused of doing this srt of thing to a great deal more women than Lucie, and where did I read about this first? That's right, the good old Telegraph online, whilst the Yomiuri to whom we doff our thinking caps of a morning, has carried not a word of this. Indeed precious little of it has been seen or heard in the media of this case (though to be fair, the Mainichi newspaper did carry the story, according to their website). So, Japanese man rapes and murders his way through foreign hostesses and nary a peep from the papers, just about par the course really, but you can be assured if it was a foreign man and some Japanese women the story might just be a little bigger...

The more I write about the Yomiuri the more I get to dislike it. I think it has a thing about foreigners, in that it doesn't like them, even though it publishes one of the biggest English language dailies in the country. What gave me the hint that perhaps the parent Japanese language Yomiuri Shimbun isn't too keen on the non-Japanese in the country was an editorial from last week [there are no editorials specifically in English, they are all translations from the Japanese paper]. The title of this editorial was 'Sufferage for Foreigners Insufferable Nonsense', which just about sums up the mood of the piece. There is a body of opinion in this country that non-Japanese with permanent residency status should be allowed to vote in local elections that choose things like school Principals and local bye-laws and stems, in part from the no taxation without representation type thing that kicked off the American War of Independence. Whether or not I agree with this is not the point (I don't, by the way), but the prose of the editorial was just such utter tosh that I found I ended up supporting the idea just to annoy the Japanese editors (not that I could actually annoy them, as it were, unless I was to go to their office and throw water bombs at them, but then I'd just be pandering to a stereotype if I did, but you get the point (I hope)).

Anyway, the reason that no non-Japanese should be allowed to vote in any kind of election is the havoc that these people could wreak if given the opportunity. What, argued the editorial, would happen if countries hostile to Japan sent over spies to infiltrate the system, gain the vote and then, potentially, oust a high school principal and get him replaced with someone more to their liking!? What indeed, those cloistered in the corridors of power must be quaking in their boots...

Load of old nonsense, but then again the Japanese are unique, you see, so can't have foreigners coming over and mucking about with their democracy, it might end up with officials becomming responsible for their actions! Heaven forbid.

Another thing I wrote about recently was a quick rant about the birth rate in Japan and how the govt worry about it but do nothing to encourage couples to have children, indeed going out of their way to make it difficult and expensive. Anyway there was me getting it wrong again as the govt has been doing a lot about this problem. Yup, they have had a committee meeting and, in a bout of no doubt frenzied activity, done a bit of research. This has led to the production of a report, a new annual white papaer no less, leading to an article in Yomuri this morning (I might knock it, but it does have some news in it). In another excellent headline, the paper, in no way trying to cause panic, trumpeted 'Japan heading for extinction' and then outlined the problem. Essentially lots of babies used to be born, but now they aren't and something needs to be done about it (honestly, I think they just read this blog and nick my ideas!).

In an enlightened mood, the white paper has called for a drastic overhaul of the welfare system which will mean shifting the emphasis from the older generation and pensioners to the younger generation and babies. This will prove tricky, considering that old farts have a lot more clout than unborn babies, but you never know. Interesting statistics (which never lie, as well you know) quoted include that pension and nursing care payments came to 70% of all social security expenditure in 2002, whilst day care and child allowances came to 3.8%. Also, average payments to persons aged 65 or over amount to almost 2.5million yen each per year, compared to 170,000yen to each child! No wonder everyone wants to be old in this country, it is financially worth it, much more than making a new generation to take over the burden.

Anyway you can read the whole article here, though don't go hoping that the govt has any answers to this issue, that is not what a white paper is all about. As the article says "But despite its portrayal of the crisis, the paper does not any specific measures to resolve the problem."

That'll be up to everyone else then...

Monday, 29 November 2004

In the news this week...

The word, of course, has been parricide. For those not up to speed, this is "the killing of a near relative esp. of a parent" according to my concise OED and has been in the news as there have been a couple of fairly gruesome examples. One chap in Mito was arrested on Wednesday after apparently killing his folks, whilst a 28 yr old chap was arrested on suspicion of mudering his parents and sister, though her 11month old baby daughter was spared as apparently she didn't pose much of a threat to him.

Both of these chaps seemed to think that they were having undue pressure put upon them by their fathers, and so decided to take matters into their own hands before, they thought, their fathers' did away with them. The 28 yr old chap decided his mother and sister had to go as well in case they, quite rightly you would guess, shopped him to the police. The undue pressure the two had been put under was along the lines of 'get a job' or 'get some qualifications', that sort of thing. But the thing is the second chap, the 28 yr old, didn't need to really, he was one of the growing phenomenon of Japanese kids who withdraw from life and shut themselves up in their rooms. There is a Japanese word for these people, but I'll be buggered if I can remember what it is.

Most Sundays the guru and I watch a program which is a bit like the DIY-stylee changing rooms things on brit TV excpet it s done by professionals and doen't include a presenter called Charlie. Essentially a couple/family who have been living in a shitty old house for 40 years decide to raid the piggy bank and splash out up to 50,000 quid for someone to redo their house. The usual practice here is for the architect to rip out all the old dark wood and replace it with light pine, make the windows a bit bigger, put some skylights in the roof and reshape the living areas so people can actually live in them and hey presto, you have a house that it is eminently livable in. But, and here's the point, one of the really striking things about the program is not that the family have put up with such crappy living condidtions for so long, but that the parents haven't kicked their 20-30 yr old offspring out of the house already.

Most of the programs have the kids, now adults, living at home with their parents. Not surprised this leads to murderous killing spress. In fact I'm surprised it doesn't happen more, but it seems to be the standard way to do things around here (and far be it for me to criticise a whole culture...oh, all right then). When I've talked to some of the women who work in the office, they think it perfectly normal and shudder when I suggest they make their kids move out, but then they complain that their kids eat all their food, are messy, come home late, are disrespectful and all of the other things that kids do to annoy them. None of these ladies in the office have added 'are murderous', but you never know. I can remember big p saying, in jest but I got the point, that I and golf-playing brother were to be kicked out of the house at 16, or until we finished full time education. The most common defence by the ladies in the office is that firstly apartments are too expensive (which is rubbish), and that secondly 'who will look after my [27 yr old, lazy] baby?' Well, perhaps baby could look after himself and at the same time (rapidly) learn the fundamentals of cooking and bill paying - I was going to suggest 'cleaning' there as well, but then I realise I should try and keep this grounded in reality.

But no, doesn't seem to happen here. Children, especially sons, are doted upon to such an extent in Japan that they never need to learn these skills. Boys are waited upon hand and foot by their monthers until they get married, then they are waited upon hand and foot by their wives. If they don't get married, it would seem, they carry on living at home, which obviously isn't healthy as it can lead to the cases above.

The papers

Chap came to the door this evening, a Japanese newspaper salesman. Newspapers are big business here in Japan. Whilst in Britain a paper round is done by spotty 13 yr old kids before school, here it is a proper job and the delivery guys also double up by delivering goods during the days. So papers are arranged not by local newsagents shops, but by agents of the papers, so rivalry becomes fierce as these really are peoples livelihoods at stake, hence you get salesmen coming around to your door at seven o'clock on a Monday evening trying to sell you newspapers.

Now the guru was out at the time, doing something that pregnant women do and I had only just got home. I read the english language daily yomiuri everyday, have it delivered from the yomiuri agents. This chap was also from the yomiuri, but the Japanese version and when I opened the door he looked a little crestfallen but launched into his spiel anyway. At first I thought he was going on about my paper so I nodded along to humour him. Them he started going on about getting three months for free, no three and a half grand fee to pay.

"But I only pay two and half for my paper?"

"No with this deal you won't have to pay anything for three months"

"For a paper that I already read?"

"No!" much smacking of forehead "for the yomiuri shimbun!"

"The Japanese langugage one?"

"Yes!" his forehead taking another beating

"Do I look like the sort of person who wants to read a Japanese newspaper? Especially when I already get your english one?"

"You can get it free for three months and I'll throw in a couple of beer vouchers"

"I can't read Japanese, why would I want a Japanese newspaper?"

"You speak it very well! Like a native! Three months for free!".

Etc etc etc. Naturally my Japanese was about as far from 'like a native' as is possible, but the bloke just did not stop. He looked really shocked as I repeated, getting a little exasperated, that I already read one version of his paper and didn't really want another one. Indeed as I closed the door the look on his face suggested that I had stolen his wife, crashed his car and set fire to his house in the space of one afternoon.

Could have done with the beer vouchers though.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004

What might have been...

I have just, if you keep tabs on the book reading list on the right, finished Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. This is a fascinating book and well worth a read, so please consider it recommended reading and get hold of a copy if you haven't done so already. It is full of good stories about his life in the kitchen, lots of ego trips and self aggrandizement (hope that's the correct spelling) but very amusing as well - and now I know where the 'never order the fish on a Monday' refrain comes from.

Anyway, one story that really struck a chord was how he got into the whole cooking thing in the first place. When he was about 9 his folks took him and his brother to France for a summer - his father was French and a cook and they went on a gastronomic extravaganza that only a 9 year old can fail to appreciate. Somewhere along the line he realised that there might be a little more to food than just sustenance and so he started trying everything put in front of him. All going along okay until an episode in the town of Arcachon, near Bordeaux. A friend of his Aunt's down there took the whole family out on his boat to his oyster beds, waited until the tide went out and then started a-harvesting the ripe crustaceans. On offering the whole family the chance to sample a freshly plucked oyster, raw from the shell, all declined except the youngster, who, basically trying to gross out his parents, tried the biggest of the bunch and had his epiphany. Suddenly food was where he was at and a culinary star was born.

I recount this as almost exactly the same thing happened to me...

We had a few holidays in France as a family when I was just a slip of a lad, with father parental driving the family down to the south of the country. Most of these were in a place called Annecy near the Alps and a few, like Bourdain, where in Arcachon. (Writing this now I have realised why - Annecy = Cotes du Rhone, Arcachon = Bordeaux - our family holidays were extended boose cruises. Fair enough I suppose). Anyway yes, when I was about 9, perhaps, we had a holiday down Arcachon way, which for a little kid at the time was great. Very hot, sunny, fantastic Atlantic coast with big rolling waves coming in to Cap Ferrat to keep you interested in the sea, the world renowned Dune of Pilay (or something), which is the biggest sand dune in Europe and is, well, a great big pile of sand (you had to humour the parentals at times).

And there were oysters everywhere. Father parental, the big p of comment fame, had, no, still probably has, a thing about fresh oysters - can't get enough of them. Won't eat them in the UK, as far as I know, as they are too expensive, but down there they were two a penny so every meal, for him, was oysters. Lunch? A dozen oysters and a couple of Kronenbourgs (for 10 francs I suspect). Pre-dinner apertisers? Half a dozen and a carafe of local red. Dinner? More oysters and mother's driving back to the campsite. (Can't remember breakfast but I am sure oysters were involved somewhere).

But no one else would join him in his gastromonic gratification. Not surprising really, considering what fresh oysters look and smell like, but in the end I, like Bourdain, thought I'd give it a go. It must have been toward the end of the holiday and we were in some quite nice restaurant in Arcachon. Big p had ordered the Plateau de Fruits de Mer (lit. trans. Plate of that which is left at the bottom of the drag net and which we can sell to the English). This was a big plate of anything and everything from the sea , most of it raw and, of course, had a good number of oysters arranged artfully at the centre.

"Go on, you'll love it"


"It's an experience, you'll never get another chance"


"Otherwise I'm not buying you another steak frites"

"Er...ok then"

In my memory the selected shell was about a foot across and 6 inches deep, the oyster inside a monster of the deep. I took up the sample, added a bit of lemon juice and, my life playing across my eyes, knocked it back. It was, if I recall, like swallowing the end product of a mucus heavy head cold.

I felt its cold, sea watery-ness slide ever so slowly down the back of my throat as father looked on, beaming.

It got to the bottom of my throat. Stayed for a few seconds to admire the view. The decided it liked the outside world far more and began its ascent. As it came slowly higher up my throat a green tinge to my skin apparently shadowed its progress.

I managed to keep the bugger down, just, but my epiphany at that moment included the word 'projectile'. Indeed it took me quite a while after coming to Japan to pluck up the courage to have a crack at sushi and sashimi, both of which I now love. But even today oysters cause me a bit of bother, even the deep fried variety.

But I was that close to a life as a chef.

A bit about Japan...

It was a national holiday today, labour thanksgiving day to be precise, which apparently is nothing to do with the socialist labour movement but is to give thanks to people that work. Think you way through that one. So the Guru and I wandered off to Ikebukuro for the afternoon to nose, buy some bits and pieces, that sort of thing. Now the Guru is not a fan of Ikebukuro, too messy she says. I am not really sure what she means by messy, but I think it is the reason I quite like the place, in that it isn't sterile of too planned, shiny, new or false. In fact it feels like a higgledy-piggledy place with alleys, short cuts and side streets. As I said, I quite like it.

Today was meant to be pre-christmas shopping but we managed, somehow, not to buy a sngle thing except for lunch. As we were in Ikebukuro we had ramen as it is the most competitive ramen place in Japan, apparently, and the place we went to had quite a long queue outside. But the problem was that the shop was on 'ramen street', where a televised 'ramen battle' was held last new year and so, I felt, it was all a bit hyped. The ramen was ok, but not great and not really worth waiting 15 minutes for in a queue. The place I usually go to in Kawaguchi is just as good, if not better, and is more authentic as the walls are greasy and the staff are rude.

Monday, 15 November 2004


am desperately trying to think of something to write this evening, but the brain seems to have gone to bed. The guru is still pregnant, which is good news. Nothing really to add on that score - as I said in a comment the other day, last week she went to the hosp where they took another armful of blood, this time to do some checks to ascertain the likelihood of there being genetic problems with the baby. If the guru has a higher than average chance, which is likely as she is a little older than normal for a first kid, then they will do more tests, almost certainly an aminocentesis, which is particularly nasty and about 3% or something of which end in premature birth or miscarriage. Don't want to do this unless we really have to. Plus, as with eveything here, it costs a shit load more cash. Anyway the results of the initial blood test will be ready next week, so I'll keep everyone posted.

And of course we've been thinkning about names. Big P was wondering about this as well, and he has a vested interest as he will be a grandfather all over again. The common practice of mixed parents here seems to be to give any offspring a western first name and a Japanese middle name. This is all well and good but may well get tricky later as Japanese aren't allowed to have middle names, the system can't cope with it. I wrote before about how to choose names in Japanese, but hadn't really considered this important point. It was bought home to me by a colleague talking about a western friend of hers who had a daughter with a Japanese chap and went to japanese then english names (they had also decided to form a double barrelled surname), until they came to register the kid and found that they were fine with the first name being something like 'Noriko' but the rest of the name had to squashed into one box, as it were, and ended up being Janeyamaguchirobertson - not a good way to go through life, I suspect.

This becomes important when kids get to 22. Japanese are unique, you see, so if you have a Japanese passport you can't have one from another country as well. You're Japanese or you are not, nothing in between. So kids with mixed parents have to choose, when they get to 22, what they want to be. If our kids chose to be British they would have to apply for a visa to stay in Japan just like every other foreigner - though admittedly they would have an easier time of it and there are special visas that people in this situation can obtain. Anyway, seems a bit rum to me and I can't think of too many other countries that put those sorts of limits onto its citizens - mainly as I haven't thought about it really, I guess Krazy Kim wouldn't be too happy if his North Korean charges could get hold of valid second passports, or the Chinese for that matter. Ah, must be dictatorships then...

On that score Krazy Kim has been very quiet recently. The jug eared deserter that is Mr Jenkins has finally been dishonourably discharged from the US army, forty years after going awol, in a move that didn't really surprise anyone at all. I mean, were the American authorities really going to charge a 70 old bloke with a dicky-ticker? I think not. I think Kim has been keeping schtum to see how the US election went. Over here it has all been a bit low key. Koizumi said he was happy, everyone else seemed to think he's mad, which is perhaps why he and bush get on so well.

What the papers don't say

One interesting thing that I saw was this. As you can see from ther link there was a hoohah in the British press about a manga artisit who tried to draw realistic depictions of the rape of Nanking in the weekly comic Young Jump. However when he did this, using original photographs, he was hounded into changing his artwork by members of the far right who denounced his work and did the usual right wing type things of denying the atrocity ever happened, that it is exaggerated, that it wasn't them and that they were forced to do it (all usually in the same sentence). Now, I might have been overly lax in my scanning of the papers over the last week or two, but I can remember no mention of this anywhere. The guru, whom I asked about this after discussing it with the aforementioned big p, knew nothing of it either. So how is it that this story was reported in the British press but not here in Japan? Because the press is a bit crap, that's why. They have been getting better recently, as has been noted in these very pages, somewhere, but this just seems a bit shite to me - unless of course the right wing nutters hounding this artist chap are also the people who own the newspapers, not unlikely considering some of the editorials I read in the Yomiuri of a morning. (In the interests of blogger impartiality I just Googled Hiroshi Motomiya, the author of the comic, and found the Telegraph article link as above, but none on the first few pages to a Japanese newspaper, weird that).

Anyway, the right wing chaps are always at this sort of thing. I did read the other day that some were arrested on a Tokyo (I think) street for selling hinomaru flags (that'll be the flag of Japan to those not in the know). They were forcing passers-by to buy these flags for up to 60,000 yen, that's 300quid, and loudly denoucing people for being unpatriotic if they didn't. This is one of the things that led the Emperor, no less, so murmur the other day that he thought it was wrong to force school teachers and other public servants to stand to attention and face the flag when the national anthem is played (something like 200 hundred teachers were reprimanded for not doing this earlier in the year in Tokyo). Now you would think that the Emperor saying this would mean that people in Japan would listen and respect his words. But of couse the Imperial Household Agency, which as far as I can tell is the worst kind of 'power behind the thrown' type set up, immediately issued a press release that said basiclly yes, the Emperor did say that, but what he meant by it was actually quite different in that people who don't stand to attention during the national anthem should be flogged and/or be forced to watch the Sound of Music 18 times in a row.

Caused a bit of a furore that as the Geneva convention has very strict limits on the number of times a person can be forced to watch the sound of music - amnesty international is monitoring the situation as I type...

Thursday, 11 November 2004

the north-south divide

and there was me thinking it was bad in the uk...

Monday, 8 November 2004

After the excitement...

of last week's post and all its assorted associations, we're back to the more mundane this week. The guru is still pregnant and will be for the foreseeable future, well, until May,and I am rapidly coming to realise, even as I type, that this alone isn't going to sustain this blog for too long as not a great deal changes form week to week.

So better think of something else to write...

Here's a weird thing that I see almost everyday and have been meaning to mention for ages but have never seemed to get around to it. When I taught, before doing what I do now, I used to teach a lot of kids from about 2yrs old and upwards. I was pretty good at it, though I say it myself, mainly as I soon tapped into the most effective teaching method for young learners - noise. Anyway, this isn't the point, the point is is that when I taught Japanese kids I was very much of the opinion that kids are kids all over the world and that there's not a whole lot of difference between a 6 yr old in Japan and one in say, the UK, US or Australia. I mean, kids like having a laugh, being noisy, getting messy if possible and generally larking about. Organise your lessons with as much of that in as possible, hopefully with a bit of English thrown in and you have yourself a happy classroom and a good learning environment.

Nowadays, of a morning, I leave the flat at 8am two or three times a week, depending on what time I have to be at the office. With an 8am departure I am walking at the same time as the kids all go off to elementary school (junior high school kids are generally about with a 730am apartment exit). To make it easier to spot elementary school kids, they all wear yellow hats - baseball caps for the boys and round sun hats for the girls. This is to make them more visible to cars and easier for older bullies to target, one would think.

Anyway, what you can observe here is Japanese group think par excellence. All the kids walk to school in groups, the same group everyday. Each group is led by an older looking kid, probably 7 to the rest of the kid's 5 or 6. This older looking kid is the leader as they hold the yellow flag. The yellow flag denotes authority - you do not fuck with the yellow flag. The rest of the group, maybe 6 or 7 other kids follow the leader. They walk in the straight line, single file. They always occupy exactly the same spot in the line. Their organisation is such that I know that if I leave the flat at 8am dead, I will pass the first group just after leaving the block and the second as I turn right onto the small street in front of the old people's home (with the building site and the 5 new houses at the end). The second to last student of this group will be a girl with pig tails who stares at me every time I walk past. There are no teachers to check on progress, and only a few mothers at some crossroads to oversee road crossing. The kids, and the yellow flag, rule the walk to school with an iron bound efficiency. There is no noisyness, no larking about or high jinks. I have not seen one kid trying to give another a dead leg/dead arm/wedgie in 18 months. Not one pile-on have I observed. In reality these are not kids, they are robots. And this messes with your mind.

A part of me thinks "wow, that is so great, the kids are all organised by themselves. And it's a lot safer as they aren't running in the road or causing a disturbance". But then my real brain kicks in and tells the Japaneseifying part of me to stop being so stupid and look again. These are 6 yr old kids, for heaven's sakes, they should be mucking about, playing tag, fighting each other and generally being, well, kids. But they're not, they're too far into the system. They have been organised and inculcated with group think. Already.

I used to think that, as far as my kids were concerned, a Japanese education up to the age of about 10 would be great, but junior high school isn't known as exam hell for nothing and so by then, at the latest, the guru and I would be looking for a return to the old country, or an international school depending on how things looked (and how healthy the bank balance was). But now I'm not so sure - if 'they' can make 6 yr old kids walk in single file everyday of their school lives, what else can 'they' do...?

Monday, 1 November 2004

Onto more serious matters...

Right, no time to talk about shopping this week, we have other stuff into which to sink our teeth.

Now, as you may well have read in the past, time was when I needed to take half the day off, not only because it was a nice day, but also for a spot of swift wrist action back home, after which the guru could take my outpourings to the local hospital so they could help in the procreation business.

Well no longer as I can officially announce that the good and wonderful guru is well and truly pregnant!

Indeed she has been for a while now, but keeping fingers crossed meant that it was hard to type the words. But no need to worry now. Hah! just thought about that statement and realised that there is everything to worry about for the next 18 years or something ridiculous like that. Anyway, last week we went for the end of 12th week check-up and scan and stuff, which apparently is a key point in that the miscarriage chances start going down from here, so good news. So counting back it only takes a moment to realise that the fateful time was the obon holiday - no work, de-stress, relax, break out the red wine etc - which means that whilst we were meant to be honouring dead generations we were in fact doing our darnedest to usher new ones in, which seems quite apt to me.

Of course this means this blog will now completely change from a view of life in Japan for a person of foreign extraction to one about a bloke bleating on about his wife and child yet to be born (the child is yet to be born, not the wife). Oh well, I don't care.

So we have already visited the Japanese version of Mothercare, which goes by the catchy name of Akachan-Honpo (lit. special baby-merchandise shop). Luckily for us, we have one placed almost on our doorstep, well, a 15 min walk to the station followed by a 20 min bus ride to Green City shopping centre, conveniently sited close to bugger all (oh alright, it is next to a motorway exit, but not much good if you don't have a car). Anyway we went there a couple of weeks ago to look at maternity wear, not that I did much looking at that, mind, not after seeing the enormous pants on offer. It was weird, but as soon as this whole baby possibility came along, the only baby related products I have been able to think about have been the baby harness carrier things where you strap the little bugger to your back or front, and push chairs. So anything that will get the baby out of the house. Clothes, accessories, bathing stuff etc, not a look in so far - don't know why, sure there is something deeply psychological about it, or maybe I'm just an outdoorsy sort of person, who knows, not I and I'm not up for analysis.

Anyway, the one thing that Akachan-honpo confirmed, as if I needed any reassurance, is that having a baby is bloody expensive. I'm sure this is true of every country in the world, but here, well, small South American countries have smaller GDPs, of that I am sure.

Talking of which, get this (you knew I couldn't resist a little rant). Japanese national health insurance is such that for each bill from the doc, you pay 30% and the govt pays the rest. Nice and simple. But being pregnant isn't considered 'being ill' so the govt refuse to pay their 70% of any medical bills! This from a country that has a drastically aging population, woeful birthrate and serious manpower problems just around the corner! It's easy, you fuckwits, cover all the bills from the hospitals (and in Japan you go to hospital a lot) that deal with pregnancy and you might just encourage people to have a few more kids. When the guru gives birth we will have to fork out about half a million yen! Now even the govt has realised that this is a bit excessive and will reimburse 300,000 of it, but still, that leaves over 1,000 pounds we have to pay and that's if everything goes smoothly. If it doesn't, I shudder to think. Still, this is all obviously rocket science to the grey suits, though with their average assets of 78 million, as reported this week in the papers, the naturally don't need to worry about these sorts of things, but for the rest of us... :-(ok... rant over... calm down... go to your happy place.... breathe deeply... there you go:-)

After all that Akachan-Honpo was just like a big shop full of baby stuff. We bought a few things and a christmas present for Charlie (golf playing brother's son, for those who haven't been paying attention) and then left as it was full of screaming kids. I realise that I am going to have to get used to this, but let's just take it one step at a time.

So what else have we done? Well, we have registered the pregnancy at our local town hall. None of this waiting until the birth sort of nonsense, get the thing registered as a foetus. As with most things in Japan, pregnancy has to be organised, no happy-go-luckiness here, thank you very much. So on registering the pregnancy you receive a Boshi-Techo (lit. mother and child note - fathers, apparently, don't need to know this stuff). Actually I think this is a good idea, to be honest. It's a small booklet that lasts from the 12th week pregnancy check-up until the kid is about 6 or 7 years old. Into it goes all the useful info such as height and weight of mother and child during pregnancy, then all stuff to do with the kid as it grows, like vaccinations, illnesses had, visits to doc and dentist etc. All very organised and useful for when you ask your mother "have I had measles/mumps/dengue fever?" to which the answer is usually "yes it was when you were 5... or was that your brother? Erm, well, one of you has had it." So you get one of those and about leaflets about sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death, which seems a little early to be worryng prospective parents like that.

And of course we have been for the 12 week check-up. This was a the swish new hospital which is very convenient as it is only about 15 minutes walk away, and jolly brand spanking new it is, or newly rebuilt on the site of the old hospital. Anyway we went there on wednesday last week, and I took the day off to go along, look at the scan, be morally supportive and then finish off my current course assignment in the afternoon. (Q. who are the coolest workers in a hospital? A. the ultrasound people) We got there at about 1030am and the first thing we had to do was sit through another earthquake. I mean really, it's getting a bit much, all of this. A magnitude 6 aftershock hit Niigata, meaning a 4 was felt through Saitama, but because this was a swish new hospital, we hardly felt a thing, certainly not as bad as a rickety old apartment building. Then we got to see the doc, who was a tad surprised to see me in there as well, not a lot of fathers take time off work to attend something such as this, I would guess. He asked the guru a few questions and then motioned her through to the scan room where they were going to perform the necessaries. When the guru asked "can my husband come in as well" they nearly shat themselves. "What!? In the ultrasound room?! With you?! At the same time!? No, no absolutely not! Never! Men aren't allowed in there! Apart from doctors, but they don't count! Why not? Might contaminate the place with non-doctor related maleness! And he hasn't shaved this morning! I mean really!" are certainly some of the things they said in between gasps of incredulity. I expect they're still talking about it even now. But the guru got scanned and all is well. It is about the right shape and size, it moved during the scan so there are two distinct images of Klingons attacking the Enterprise and all seems to be well so far.

After that, of course, we had to pay. What got me about this last act is that we got a receipt about a foot long. Pretty impressive stuff. Most of ours was blank as we had only had a couple of things cheked and done. Down the right hand side was a couple of lines and then the amounts we had to pay. On the left hand side was the bits the govt would pay for, but ours was almost all blank because, as mentioned above, the govt aren't interested in giving us any cash for this. I say almost blank as there were a few numbers. They added up our points, which work, apparently, like air miles... I'm not sure what you get if you earn enough points, a set of steak knives seems somehow inappropriate, but a set of scapels might come in handy. Who knows, you might even get enough for a free operation, almost seems to make it all worthwhile.

oh, and for those that are interested...

saw this online games thing on some tv program - am quite taken with proximity...

Saturday, 30 October 2004

now it is not often that a post appears on a friday night (or really at 1am on saturday morning), so count yourselves lucky that this night is different than most.


Well, duped is too strong a word for it, but mislead seems a bit, well, too innocent. It all goes back to the anti-but-not-anti-Japan book I was reading earlier this month or so. One of the premises, which you may have picked up upon since, is the prevalence of concrete in the countryside, mainly on account of the Forestry and Something Else Ministry (last strategc policy review: Tokugawa Shogunate 1891). Anyway, the point of the chapter in the book was that far too much of Japan was under the extreme influence of concrete and that this was due to nefarious influences in various ministries in the government that took profit over progress any day. And I believed it lock stock and 2 etc etc.

So what has changed? Well simple really, nature. 3 weeks of rain and a magnitude 6 earthquake have wrought disaster on Niigata and Japan as a whole. "Oh woe" Mr Kerr said " the landscape is being destroyed by concrete and crap here in Japan". But I don't know now. I mean, part of me would like to think in this way and try to come across all superior like over the Japanese. But then again, who the fuck does Alex Kerr think he is when he says that Japan can survive inspite of its natural obstacles?

On wednesday I took the day off. It was for other reasons that I will come to in the fullness of time. However, the guru and I sat in a hospital at 1030 and we shook with everyone else as another 6-er shook Niigata. Later on that afternoon we watched the TV as the boy was dragged from the car.

It looked to me as if the bank above the road was mud. If this had been concreted over, would the boy's mother and sister survived? Would the car have been buried in the first place? Would this all have been prime time?

The artificial manipulation of the countryside here has always been something of a sore point as us enlightened westerners bemoan the apparent lack of care and thought that goes into the upkeep of the natural side of things. But how much empirical knowledge of typhoons and earthquakes can be gained from Hampshire, or anywhere else?

This post isn't particularly eloquent or, for that matter, sensical. But it will have to do for now. The point is, if not clear, is how can we criticise if we don't know?

PS however, as a journo asked in the yomiuri the other day, we are pretty much up to date with the "and how does this earthquake make you feel?" type questions so far, but why is there such a lack of questuions such as:
Hmm, Niigata's nuclear power stations, how do they stand up to a magnitude 6 earthquake?
Oh? Have you shut them down yet?
So after the Hanshin earthquake in 1995, what lessons did you learn?
So knowing that supplying stranded people by air was a priority, why did it take 4 days to get helicopters to the disaster site?
A supplementary budget to cover disasters costs will take how long to ratify?
Yes but people are starving and freezing right now...?
So let me get this straight, there are lots of US military personnel in Japan right now and they are doing what to help?

Monday, 25 October 2004

Well we're still here

Though only just due to earthquakes and typhoons, but like Gloria Gaynor, we have survived. Sideways Bob, in a comment, said he wanted a full report on the typhoon - well, I've already written one of those here and suffice it to say that last week's ones were pretty similar i.e. it rained. it was windy. some train lines stopped. we got over it. Similar job with the earthquakes on Saturday night that did some fairly serious damage to Niigata prefecture. It even manged to derail a shinkansen (that's a bullet train to those not in the know), which was the first time a shinkansen has been derailed since they started up in 1964 - a pretty impressive safety record, that. Anyway, Tokyo wobbled quite a lot and our building swayed in an alarming fashion - but for the fourth one at about 1845 I was on my bicycle going to the off licence and at ground level it wasn't nearly so bad, so I think living on the 7th floor really does make a difference, heaven knows what the really tall apartment blocks are like at the top...


Anyway golf-playing-brother also mentioned that there should be more stuff about living in Japan. "Like what?" I enquired. "Simple stuff, you know, that we don't do, like going to a supermarket. That's normal for you but is really weird for us." Which obviously suggests that all the supermarkets have closed down in the UK since I left. But in deference to my adoring public, just for you golf-playing-brother, here is a post about going to the supermarket.

The guru often goes to the supermarket. I, on the other hand, only find time at the weekend to visit the food and daily necessities emporia that dot the landscape. Within striking distance of the flat there are two Iida's, one Inageya, two Ito Yokado's and, if we are feeling rich, the food floor at Sogo department store. Of these I like Inageya most as it is newest and if the important ratio of distance/size/price/bread making ability is used, comes out top. It fails abysmally on the stocking alcohol criteria and some would argue, forcefully, that this should be a reason to veto it entirely. But a lot of supermarkets are like this in Japan, so what can you do? Also it means I get to go to the My Mart offy, to where I was cycling on saturday, which is a really good offy - decent wines, port, spirits, point cards, thai red curry mix - and they know me in there, so that is where we go.

Often before going to the supermarket we jot down the things we need to buy, we call this our 'shopping list'.

On the way to the supermarket we now pass a little building site. Kawaguchi is a city in transition at the moment. As it is just over the river into Saitama prefecture, it was once far enough out of Tokyo to be considered a place to place industry, so there are a lot of factories here. Not just ordinary factories mind, but heavy industry, steel smelters and die cast workshops and the like. The history of Kawaguchi is built on these factories and there is iron everywhere (more even than concrete, though this is slowly changing). But now, as the sprall has overtaken the city, industry is getting out. Even in the last two years the big factories on our side of the train lines have all but closed as the land has rocketed in value, meaning large wads to knock down the factories and build big apartment blocks in their place. This means, of course, that the demographics of the place are rapidly changing. It used to be, from what I gather, quite a polarized place, with a lot of factory workers and a few owners, so lots of small, cheap housing blocks and some really rather large and pleasant houses for the owners. But now it is all changing. Big apartment blocks mean white collar Tokyo commuters with young families. And it is a great place to commute from, one of the reasons we live here, as Shinjuku is only 20 minutes away, same for Ueno and only 25 to Tokyo and Otemachi, so quite convenient really (and trust me, convenience is the number 1 priority for home buying in Japan).

So this building site we pass was once a factory, or part of a factory, that the owners decided to change to residential land. (I think it was part of a factory as the rest is still there. Not sure what it makes, but luckily there are no zoning laws in Japan, so it could be the largest producer of hydrochloric acid in Japan and be quite legally placed in a residential area. Crazy.) So once this piece of land was levelled to make way for the builders, the guru and I mused on a saturday afternoon as to how many houses would be built on it. Now I have no idea about the exact size of the plot, but I would estimate that perhaps it is 25 meters by 15, or so. So I though one house and a nice big garden, or perhaps two. The guru, being Japanese, said they would squash them in there so three was more likely. Imagine our surprise, then, when the buggers managed to find space for 5 houses! Cheek by jowl doesn't do it justice.

Now to build a house in Japan is very simple, it seems to me. First get yourself the land, dig a foundation about a meter deep at most and then cover the floor with concrete, including raised bits about 50cm high that are the outline for the internal and external walls. Then, once that is dry, you bugger off to Ikea and basically buy a flat packed house. No really, everything else, it seems to me, is made of wood and looks like one big jigsaw. The frame is just lengths of 4x2, put up like a skeleton, after which a chap comes along and fills in the gaps with chipboard which is nailed in place with one of those pneumatic nail guns - no screws here. Windows are cut into the chipboard and the aluminium frames fitted. Lastly, on the outside, some nice mock brick cladding is added to make the thing look nice and substantial, which it isn't. Inside they are finised very nicely, I expect, but what you have is a very thinly walled house, which explains why they are a bugger to heat in winter, no cavity wall insulation in sight. But then again they have to be this way as it does make them exceptionally flexible and therefore safer in earthquakes. Also, if a big one does hit, the last thing you really want is lumps of concrete or masonary falling about your ears, the fewer heavy things that can drop on you the better, I guess, which is why bathrooms are always on the gound floor in houses. This flexibility, whilst being a strength, is also a weakness as the average lifespan for a house in Tokyo (or maybe Japan, I can't remember) is only 26 years, which is a ridiculously short time for a house, not even a lifetime - though by the time you can afford to buy your own house, it is probably about how much time you'll have left.

Anyway, I follow the building of these houses with much interest. I also wonder who is going to buy one of these five places as, in the few weeks since they were started, we have had a shit load of rain, meaning that all that wood can't be in the best of condition by now...

+++to be continued - next week (possibly), the supermarket+++

Monday, 18 October 2004

What's going on?

It's all a bit odd at the moment, but Japan seems to have sort of, well, gone to sleep. I mean, in the last few weeks we have had -

No politicians with foot-in-mouth disease.

Koizumi not doing anything to annoy anyone.

No political scandals.

No big business scandals.

No anti-foreigner crusades by media/famous people.

Krazy Kim keeping quiet.

Mr Jenkins deserter fellow keeping quiet.

And a general lethargy about everything else...

I'm sure it's not only me. I know the last few posts have been a little on the negative side, mainly to do with too much rain and a super-abundance of snot, but still, all is not well I fear. Perhaps someone is slipping prozac into the water supply...? Even Fuji TV's big autumn drama is an entirely soporific frippery based losely on old Wham! songs (set, excitingly, to climax at christmas with the song 'Last Christmas'. Be still my beating heart)

I don't know, perhaps everyone is gearing up for a really wild November or something, but I really can't remember it so quiet. Or perhaps the whole country is agog at the US presidential election. I would comment on all of this, but this isn't a blog about US politics, there are quite enough of those as it is without me cluttering up the ether with my opinions... ok, just a little one then.

Doesn't matter who gets in, we're all f**ked anyway. Think either of them give a shit about you and me? No, nor me. Splendid isolation was a splendid policy for the US pre-WWII, perhaps they should try it again.

But why should the Japanese be so intrested in the US election? Hmm, well, I suppose as one of the main trading partners their relationship is important. OK. And, well Koizumi has been making a bit of noise about moving US army and airforce bases in Japan, mainly as the bases are making a bit too much noise themselves. I think this is something that the Japanese PM does around this time every four years, when there is an election in the US, trying unsuccessfully to get the encumbent or incoming pres to listen to him. Don't think it has worked so far, and probably won't happen again, but you never know. Of course Japan could just kick the Americans off their country completely, if they really wanted, but I have a feeling that Krazy Kim might just like that prospect a little too much.

But it's weird, the whole US base thing. Of course I realise why they are here and the history behind it all, fairky straight forward stuff. But then consider this. A month or two ago there was a helicopter crash in Okinawa, a US military helicopter flew into a university building, doing a fair amount of damage, as you would suspect. First to arrive on the scene were military personnel who closed down the whole area and refused to let any Japanese police or crach investigators within 100 yards of the crash site for a couple of days. Point blank refused, just like that. No matter that it was on public land over which the military had no jurisdiction. If I had been the mayor I'd have ordered the local police to arrest all the Americans for obstructing police officers in their duty, or something like that. Anyway, from what I can remember there has been little in the way of apology from the US base, or indeed explanation as to why they refused to let Japanese civilians anywhere near the crash. Guess they don't have to if they don't want to, but this has hardly endeared the US to the local people in Okinawa.

And just how is it that the US has a base on Cuba? Never have understood that one.

Of course it could all be to do with baseball. For those not in Japan, just to fill you in, Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners managed to hit a baseball more times than anyone for 81 years. Well done him (and pity that the rest of his team were so shite). And Hideki Matsui is currently belting the hell out a baseball in the semi finals of the league thing. So well done him as well. On this side of the pacific the Seibu Lions are playing the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan series to see who wins the whole shebang.

Hmm, that must be it, Japan Inc. has shut down for the end of the baseball season. Roll on November.

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

Fade to grey

There's been a lot of it around in the last week or so, grey I mean. As I mentioned in a comment on the last post, in the last week in has rained on sunday, monday, tuesday, friday, saturday, sunday, monday and again today. Mostly this has been incessant, full on 'proper' rain that just doesn't stop. Can fair get you down, let me tell you.

On saturday we had typhoon number 22 of this unusually busy and prolonged typhoon season dump its load over us here in the kanto region. At times on saturday we had over 100mm per hour raining down upon us which, trust me, is an awful lot. The entire golf course was flooded from saturday morning onwards, though in a pleasant variation, the raised bank between river and course was still navigable, almost as if a path had be laid through the centre of a lake, upon which one could walk and contemplate the elemental force that is nature. Well, you could if some bastard hadn't given you a cold that lasted exactly three days, the length of the bank holiday weekend...

So not only was the weather grey and pissy, so was my mood for the whole weekend. No study, even though it was perfect weather for it, as the brain cells wouldn't move out of first gear (which is something along the lines of 'I said no already, so bugger off'), no going out and having fun as it was too wet, no nothing except sitting at home, feeling miserable and waiting for the sun to shine (should anyone wish to add another bucket to the vat of self pity in which I wallow(ed), please feel free).

But all good things must come to an end and so by the time work came around this morning I was feeling chipper enough to drag myself in. Still raining though.

And the weather is playing havoc with the much vaunted weather forecasting system here. The newspaper on saturday confidently predicted that monday would follow the accepted post typhoon pattern of glorious sunshine and humidity to match, even going as far as to suggest that the late year record of 4th October for a 30+degree day would be broken. Was it buggery. And it looks like no end is in sight, well, at least not tomorrow, which appears as if it will be chucking it down again. This is not what I signed up for when returning to these shores. I expected cool, clear, crisp autumns with beautiful blue skies, gently falling leaves in a riot of colour and...and...and something else intrinsically autumnal which I am signally failing to get right now.

It could all be the end of the world, of course. I mean, I read in the paper this week that since a very large chunk of the Laursen B ice shelf (sorry about spelling) fell into the antarctic ocean a year or two ago, the glaciers in the area have been pouring ever more ice into the sea, potentially increasing the rate of sea level rise by another few notches. Added to this were rumbles inside Mt St Helens in the US, eruptions from Mt Aso here in Japan and a bloody big jolt of an earthquake on wednesday night last week which, not to put too fine a point on it, scared the shit out of me.

It was at about 1130pm and I was brushing my teeth at the time. Now I'm quite used to earthquakes (not wanting to sound blase in any way), but being on the 7th floor, they tend to get magnified a bit and so when this one hit, the jolt actually made me stumble slighty, the first time that had ever happened. The guru, who was in bed, immediately shouted "should we open the front door?" to which I replied "mmphf!" and then ran to the door, opening it upon my arrival. Now at this point the guru should have got up and proceeded in a calm, swift and yet orderly fashion to the aforementioned door. However she did what just about everybody does, which is sit bolt upright in bed and wait to see if the earthquake kills you. It didn't, of course, but it was a biggy, measuring 5.8 on the Japanese scale. Brian, who lives in Chiba, swears that he heard a roar just before it hit, which is something I have never heard but am assured does happen. The earth roaring, now there's a thing. In the office the next morning several bookcases had toppled and some water from the fish tank had slopped into the tortoise pens (don't ask), but things were generally ok.

Still, gave me a fright.

Oh, by the way

in my lethargy found this new game on yahoo - diverted my boredom in a pleasing way for a good few hours...

Monday, 4 October 2004


It is not often that the guru and I go out of an evening, trying to save money and all that, and it is even rarer that we get invited out. But on Saturday night last weekend we did get an invitation to... a function.

Well, I say we but in actual fact it was I, and the good guru wasn't interested upon finding out what it was. Nor was I, really, to tell the truth, but I thought I had better go along as it might have been one of those occasions where I could 'meet' some people and possibly 'network', which apparently is a jolly important thing one must do. Especially important, if books are to believed, if one is an expat and therefore opportunities are limited by the small number of other expats in Tokyo. But 'meeting' some people and 'networking' is not that easy as it involves a lot of what is commonly known as 'small talk' but which is more correctly named 'talking bollocks to people you don't (want to) know for two hours'.

So this is how I found myself walking to the Agnes Hotel (cracking name, if you ask me) in the heart of Iidabashi on Saturday evening. I was off, I'm sure you're dying to know, to the Warwick University Graduates Alumni Function (I really can't think of another word to describe it) Tokyo 2004. Considering I only know one other warwick graduate in Tokyo (Brian, and he wasn't even invited! Well, he does return-to-sender anything that comes through his door from them) who wasn't going, you can maybe see why i wasn't filled with unbounded joy about going along. But there were two reasons for attending. One, curiosity, just who would be there? and two, it was only 1,500yen with a bar and free food. Well, 1,500 for as many glasses of red wine as I can get away with and some nosh besides, well, it has to be worth a couple of hours of anyone's time.

So, arriving at the lobby it was quite clear who would be attending, lots of Japanese people. Not surprising, I suppose, what with this being Japan, but I though perhaps one or two foreigners might be there, but on arriving, no. And not only were all of the attendees at this point Japanese, 90% of them were female - things suddenly looking up. Then I got 'small talking' to a lady by the name of Rena and realised that these females were a) really rather clever, they seemed to have gone to warwick for MAs and PhDs, but they were also b) loaded, as a further degree, especially at money grabbing warwick, does not come cheap for a native student, let alone an overseas one.

Uh oh, thought I, I can see where this evening is going to go, better start on the booze, which seemed very passable. So at this stage there was plenty of milling and not much else. The head mc chap, Jon Somethingorother, was nowhere to be found and on one seemed to be stepping into his shoes. So Rena and I continued to make 'small talk' - she is from Kanagawa prefecture, did her MA in Literature focussing on a bunch of Irish poets I've never heard of, graduating in '98. She did not live in Leamington or consider her top priorities whilst at warwick to drink too much, find a dealer, devise a new pub crawl route/drinking game/forfeit or get up to other student high jinks, so you can see our topics of conversation were pretty limited. Still, we managed to smile and chat and I managed not to anything wildly inappropriate, of which I am justifiably proud.

Just then, as if to save me from foot-in-mouth disease, a Japanese chap did the decent thing and stepped at last into Jon Somethingorother's shoes and do a welcome speech about half an hour after the function started. Then we had the curiously Japanese customs of the toast. Now I am all for toasts at weddings and birthdays and the like, but functions, hmmm. Also, if you are going to go to the bother of having a toast, well, then it is champagne, surely, or at least a drop of decent sparkling wine to get everyone in the mood? But in Japan, it seems, toasts are often made with lager...

So, put down your glass of quite pleasant plonk, fill a smallish glass with Kirin's best and shout "kampai" at everyone. Chink, chink etc [that is meant to be the sound of glasses touching lightly, not a derogatory remark about Chinese people]. All very odd, if you ask me, as beer at the same time as wine? No, I don't think so either (unless it's much later in the evening).

Then came the food, which was in the style of a buffet. Here we came up against the perennial problem of carrying the plate, holding the glass, eating the food and talking all at the same time. Luckily the hotel had cut the food into bite sized pieces that were only just too big to eat comfortably in one mouthfull, but only provided forks so you couldn't actually cut anything smaller. So, 'small talk', pop a piece of (very pleasant) roast pork in the mouth and chew, realise you have to answer a question so try to swallow, end up with tears in your eyes as a semi-masticted lump of meat forces it way down your throat, cough, splutter, look up and realise your conversation has walked off with a worried look in his eye.

Suave? That's me.

After that I 'small talked' with a chap who graduated 27 yrs ago after blagging his way into the university and basically cheating whilst he was there. Nice work. He was quite an interesting bloke, but had a tendency to spit Roy Hattersley style when he got excited. And then when he realised I wasn't a scientist, lost interest in chatting to me - or maybe that was another piece of pork...

Then I at last noticed a couple of foreigners at the function. So, wanting a decent conversation (thought the Japanese people I spoke to spoke excellent English, far better than my Japanese, but then again, thay had been to uni in the UK so it should be good). Anyway we were soon back into the 'people with deep pockets' syndrome as this couple, and a married couple they were, were on the real expat deal, shipped out by their companies. So he was a managing director of something to do with the Japanese/asian arm of one of the big accountancy firms, whilst she had recently departed from her position in an international law office. Clever people, obviously, who have done jolly well for themselves. The real expat deal means astronomical salaries, a large pad in Azabu Juban (where we went to the matsuri in August), nannies to look after their two kids, etc and associated wad. Me jealous? not really, though chip on shoulder did develop just a teensy bit. But they were nice people who really like being in Japan and who, like me, weren't really sure about going along to the function but did out of a sense of curiosity (I don't think they needed to worry about the whole open bar/1,500 yen thing - oh how the other half live). And interestingly he graduated at the same time as me, but I never knew him for two very good reasons. One, he lived in Coventry in years 2 and 3, very odd, and two, he did maths. Oh well. So we chatted and 'small talked' and it wasn't too bad as at least we could try and remember pub crawl routes, bands we saw in the union (radiohead and the manics before they were famous), all whilst desperately trying to think of people that might be a common link. It was not to be.

And with that, I buggered off home. There was one other Brit there, but he was a bit weird, so the less said about him the better, don't know why, just slighty creepy and sinister in an Alistair Sims kind of way.

Am I glad I went? I suppose so, it was interesting in its own way. Will I go again if the Warwick Graduates TokyoAlumni Steering Committee organise anything ? Well now, that depends on the toasts.

Monday, 27 September 2004

where to start...? always a tricky one. The advice usually given is to start in the middle and then go back to the start to finish off, or something like that. But that doesn't work if your not exactly sure where the middle is going either and you haven't even thought about the ending.

So today it was an exceptionally gray and wet day, in fact it almost seemed like a day in blighty, with low cloud and persistent drizzle, interspersed with buckets of very heavy rain, which was at least a little diverting. This was apt, the grayness not the diverting rain, as seemed to sum up my outlook at the moment, mainly on account of finishing the book that I wrote about last week, Alex Kerr's Japan is a Totally F**ked Concept. I have now realised the wisdom of reading books about countries when you are far, far away from the country that the book is about, preferably never to return. It is a big mistake to read a book slagging off the country you are living in, especially if a) you aren't leaving for the foreseeable b) you agree with most of what the book says and c) your partner, who is from said country, does not agree at all. This is not a recipe for a sunny visage and a spring in the step.

Then, to make matters worse, you troop off to the virgin cinema in 'trendy' Roppongi Hills to watch 'The Fog of War' which though very, very interesting, is also a wee bit depressing about the state of human nature and our inability to learn from past mistakes. If you haven't seen it, then I would highly recommend it: 2 hours of interviews, contemporary footage and anecdotes from Robert McNamara, the US Defence Secretary during the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam and the like. Fascinating, but not exactly laugh a minute stuff. Also it was Roppongi Hills, which as you well know is not my favourite place in the whole of Japan.

This, though, made me smile this week, or perhaps it was last week, I can't really remember. The Japanese, like most people, like a jolly good opinion poll to brighten up their morning daily. Current hot topics in these opinion polls are such normal things like how much you dislike the prime minister (even though he cried in Brazil when all the expats cheered him for 5 minutes), how much you hate North Korea (especially now that Krazy Kim seems to be warming up his nukes for no apparent reason - hey! When did he ever need one?) and how dangerous Japan has become. This poll that I saw was on this last topic. Part of it was all about the breakdown of Japanese family life, the increase in violent crime, especially by younger and younger children and the fracturing of society. Good news on this point, by the by, as Kaio won the Autumn Sumo basho, which finished yesterday in Tokyo. He beat Mongolian grappler Asashoryu to claim the Emperor's Cup, the first Japanese to do so for...for, well quite a long time as I can't remember the last native to do it. Asashoryu fell to something like a 9-6 record, which is pretty dismal for a yokozuna - so smies all around in the Japan Sumo Association as Japan reasserts itself as a force to be reckoned with.

I digress. So this back to this poll and its main subject. The headline for the poll was something like 'Japanese Fear Increase in Foreign Crime!' Or to put it another way, your average Japanese person on the Kawaguchi omnibus is worried about the increasing number or crimes committed by foreigners in Japan, especially, it seems violent crimes perpatrated by evil Chinese gangsters and their terrible rackets (noisy people obviously, ho ho ho). Now, as a student doing an MBA, all of my assignments involve first person research, in which views of others need to be sought. So, all the books tell me, you have to be very careful when framing questions so that you don't introduce bias, or leading questions or try to put words into people's mouths. So imagine my surprise, as the saying goes, when the question that the poll was based on translated roughly like 'Are you worried about crimes being committed by foreigners who have over stayed their visas and are now residing illegally in Japan?' Surely the answer to that question, if asked of anyone in any country about illegal immigrants would be yes, but here it was trumpted all over the front pages as if it was some kind of revelation.

What made me smile even more was that further into the article it sheepishly revealed that whilst the total number of crimes committed by foreigners is going up, as a proportion of all crime it is going down. Also, violent crimes by foreigners are going down as well, the only real growth area, as it were, are for visa infringements, such as over staying your visa, and these generally for students studying Japanese - ok, they are mostly Chinese, apparently , so at least something was accurate in the report. Nothing like an unbiased free press to stir up intelligent debate, although coming from the UK, with its tabloid trash, I'm hardly one to talk really.

On the plant front, continuing good news from the chilli plants. We have now had a total of three chills, two of which I have eaten and can confirm that they were, indeed, green chillis. And they weren't too bad, reasonably hot and spicy, but not eye wateringly so. One certainly livened up a pot of bog standard tomato-y pasta sauce the other week, so well done the chilli plants.

The olive tree continues to grow apace and is now over a metre tall, which is most impressive indeed. No olives yet, but they will come in time, I am quite sure of that. Actually, last week I sneaked off the top shoots to slow it down for the winter, but already it has sprouted three new shoots around the cutting and shows no sigh of slowing. Today the balcony, tomorrow the world!

And the rosemary, much of which has died due to the same strange thing that decimated the mint, is now doing ok. There is only really one plant left, but it is the oldest and the biggest and also has new shoots a-sprouting so hopefully it will see the winter through.

But RIP for the coffee tree, which went brown and died in about 3 days. This after it was doing so well and had recovered from its little white bug(ger) attack. Oh well, looks like I'm going to have to contiune to buy my mocha...

Monday, 20 September 2004


Finding it difficult to know what to write tonight. The main probelm is the book I'm reading at the moment - Alex Kerr's Dog and Demons: The fall of modern Japan. This is a fascinating book and well worth a read, especially to anyone living in Japan. The gist of it is that, essentially, Japan is f****d - too much concrete, too much destruction, too much debt, too little thinking and not nearly enough caring.

But how true is this of the rest of the world? Are they fingers that can only be pointed at Japan? How much do people care in Europe, America or Australasia?

I'm not sure how much I agree with all of what he has to say, but I am in total agreement about Japan and its love affair with concrete. Japan is fast on the way to becomming an exceedingly ugly place, paved in concrete and then covered in billboards and neon. The 'not enough caring' comes from everyman on the Kawaguchi omnibus, as it doesn't seem to matter that these things happen and few Japanese people seem to speak out about it (that I know or have heard about, I hasten to add). Though perhaps Kawaguchi is a tricky place to choose as from our windows we can see a massive expanse of greenery along the riverbank, both grass and trees, which is one of the main reasons we live where we do (it isn't the 1' 30" journey to work, I can tell you). But I can't believe that very many people in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto plain get such a view. Our old apartment in Chiba had a car park outside (which was hidden by bamboo trees, which were very nice and Japanesey, until the carpark owner cut them down for no apparent reason) and a road, nothing much to see there, and I don't think it is any better for the majority.

But of course we are living (and choosing to at that) in a megalopolis over 12 million people (in Tokyo, not including Saitama, Chiba and south to Yokohama) so how much more can one expect? And the trains run on time, and no one is likely to mug me, let alone shoot me accidentally during a drug war standoff - OK, too much Fox News Syndrome there, but you get the point.

Maybe that's the problem with the book, too much negativity. Is there an opposite to rose tinted spectacles?

Haven't finished the book yet, but it has certainly got me thinking.

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

The girls in blue

Now it might be thought that I have a bit of a thing about the police in this country, a bit of a negative attitude. This is of course completely wrong as I have a *extremely* low opinion of them. I have written in these pages, somewhere, about stories in the paper about crap things that they do, mainly because they seem quite funny to me, but then again because I'm usually quite aghast of the things that they manage to come out with.

But I'm beginning to realise, right now in fact, that this might just be because I come from such a totally alien cultural background that anything and everything the police do just seems odd because I am a foreigner. I wasn't going to write about this, probably because it was in the newspaper again, and that's not what we're meant to be about today, but we'll come onto that later. Anyway, letter in the paper from a chap whose wife/partner got knocked off her moped by a car. Chap, being dilligent, got the number plate details and so, when the police arose from their sloth long enough to scratch an armpit and arrive at the scene, he passed on said details. He then expected the police to leap into action, as it were, go to miscreant motorist's house, knock down doors, shout 'hut hut' a lot and effect a swift arrest (he is American). But no, and this is perhaps where the previously unheeded cultural chasm opens.

The police, being ever resourceful in finding ways to make their own job easier, telephoned the egregious automobile pilot and asked him, if it wasn't too much bother, if he minded wandering down to the nearest koban for a quiet word as he seemed to have nudged a motorcyclist whilst driving home half cut from his local sake-ya. Now if this happened in the UK, the response would be laughter followed by a few choice expletives and the connection being cut. But here the errant driver said 'right you are, it's a fair cop' and went to the station, apologised, bowed a bit and then buggered off - probably after paying a bit in damages, I would guess, but otherwise as free as scott, as the saying goes.

Now on the surface it seems like pretty shite policing to me, but the mere fact that the police did it, and the chap duly arrived, goes to show that no matter how strange you think this country is, and no matter how many times you think 'but they wouldn't do it like that in...' the fact is that Japan is a deeply, deeply weird place. I mean, even the criminals are polite and own up to their misdemeanors...but...I mean...huh?

Then again, some people have just no respect for the law whatsoever.

As I said earlier, all these stories about how crap the police are I have seen have been in the paper, but on Friday last week I saw this in action for myself. I was eating lunch with a couple of others from the office, this time at the curry place (good curries, no Japanese cooks there, all authentic Indian personages who, I'm sure I wrote somewhere before, have live cricket feeds over the internet when India are playing, which is just fine with me). Anyway they have a small terrace, big enough for one table and four chairs, where we were engaged in witless banter and curry consumption on the aforementioned sunny Friday afternoon. Along comes a black beamer that parks on the other side of the road but effectively blocking half the carriageway. These are residential streets and so are quite narrow, making passing tricky. Out jumps our plucky parker and dives into the curry emporium in which we are also scoffing.

About 10 minutes later a small car draws up. I have seen these cars before, they look a bit like police cars but have different markings on, are really small and always have three official looking ladies inside. So this patrol car slows and looks at the beamer and then quick as a flash a green and white cane is produced.

Fascinated, the terraced based foreigners watch agog...

The cane is tipped with a piece of chalk and in the blink of an eye, the chalk has marked the driver's side tire with a cross and written '155' on the road next to the mark. Then, blaring from the loud speaker atop the patrol car, the instruction "Oi! You! Wherevere you are! Move your bloody car toot sweet, we'll be back in 15 minutes to check on you" (may have been) barked.

Ah, '155' means it is five to two in the afternoon and so they will circle and come back to check at 3:10. Bouyed by our Holmes like deductive reasoning, we get up to leave, thinking what a jolly effective way to do the traffic warden thing, they don't even have to get out of the car (though quite what the lady in the back of the car did remains a mystery, moral support perhaps?) But then we saw the folly of the plan.

Beamer driver chap came out of the curry house looking a bit peeved. Got in, started the car, rolled it forward about a foot, then got out and returned to his lunch. Of course now the mark on the tire and the mark on the road didn't match up, so one assumes that the taffic ladies now had no hold over him, he had done exactly what they asked him to do. Though not quite in the spirit of the law, it was certainly within the letter of it.

We weren't able to hang around to see what happened when the ladies in blue returned, more's the pity, but it did increase my respect for law enforcement in this country.

No really.

Tuesday, 7 September 2004

Windows for warships

Saw this over at Dearie Me, does it make you worried? I think it should, Bill Gates really is going to take over the world...

Monday, 6 September 2004


You thought I'd forgotten, but I have done no such thing! Click here for this year's guide to 2004 Talk Like a Pirate Day...

And just to get in the mood

Yesterday I left my land lubbing legs on the quayside and embarked on the open seas for an evening for rape, pillage, plunder and drinking. Well, except for the first three, but luckily there was plenty of the fourth to make up for it.

That's right. Every year we organise a great big piss up for teachers and managers alike as a Tokyo boat cruise compnay has hit upon a jolly wheeze. Punters appreciate Tokyo Bay, especially at night as it is all twinkly, which looks pretty, and it's dark, unsurprisingly, so you can't see the pollution, and also the same punters like boozing. So, get a great big boat, put as many people on it as possible, fill it with beer and then sail around the bay for a couple of hours every weekend.

And it really works. For only 2500 yen, about 12quid, one can join this boat and get pretty well bladdered as the price includes as much beer as you can drink. So I and about 70 odd teachers did just that last night. And the nice thing about it is that as the average Japanese person gets drunk, they don't tend to get angry or pushy and want a fight, they just smile and then fall over, meaning that everyone else smiles and falls over as well, though luckily not overboard. If you really want to, as it were, push the boat out, you can hire a private room on this boat, which means you get some nosh as well. But this seems a bit odd to me as if you do, you only get a little porthole and so can't see outside, so what's the pont, you may as well be sitting in an izakaya in Saitama. But some people do, and fair play to them.

The Japanese are really into their all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink deals (tabehoudai and nomihoudai respectively). I suppose for the restaurants doing them they can be a good thing. I remember a few years back a largeish group of us met up for the Metropolitan Hotel Ikebukuro's evening nomihoudai one holiday. Things got off to a good start when we arrived. The drinking was meant to kick off at 6pm and go for three hours until 9 (this was a really good deal), but on arrival we found that the cake tabehoudai was still in full swing, even though it was meant to finish at 530. "But we wish to drink ourselves stupid" we said to the head waiter chap, who suddenly started looking very worried. "Ah, very sorry, but these people still need their sugar rush and we must not disappoint them in their fondant grazing" he (might have) replied. So we waited. By about 630 they had finally thrown out the last of the cake eaters - can you imagine eating nothing but cake for 2 hours? Horrible, but hugely popular in this wonderfully weird and woefully toothed country. So then we got started on the drinks.

And it was fab, but they obviuosly weren't in the slightest bit ready for a bunch of foreigners being there. Other places in Tokyo have a reputation amongst foreigners as good nomihoudai places (like the Shinagawa Prince hotel, Monday to Thursday - that's the other great thing about them, often they are in really nice hotels on the top floor, so you get great views and cheap booze - perfect) and so the staff are ready for foreign-falling-over antics, but not the Metro, or at least it didn't seem that way to us. First up was the fact that we demanded to be watered for the full three hours. The waiter chap tried the 'we finish at 9pm' blag, to which we countered 'oh pardon us, but the deal is for 3 hours and we didn't sit down until 645 because you wouldn't make the cake eaters leave, your problem, not ours'. We were still sober at this point and more importantly coherent, so faced with this barrage of logic, they were forced to acquiesce.

Next we realised why they were being so wary. A Japanese couple who had come in at the same time as us, at 645 as if they knew they would have to wait, left after about half an hour. This shocked us all quite profoundly. A fixed price all you can drink deal that last for three hours and you leave after 30 minutes! Where is the sense in that? But more Japanese came and went whilst we were there, treating the place as if it were a regular bar. Very odd, but it seems as if that was the Japanese way. We, however, did it the English way (and New Zealand way as well, if memory serves), which meant getting slowly louder and after enough beer had been drunk, moving onto silly drinks that came in small glasses and had a much bigger effect...

I think the biggest shock, though, was the 'no having fun' rule. We repeatedly told off, not for the volume of our speaking, but for laughing too long and too loudly. 'Speaking ok but not loud laugh' was the rule. Then, speaking softly as we were, a jazz trio started up on a little stage next to the dance floor. How jolly, thought some of the assembled, let's a go for a quick spin (not I, I hasten to add, dancing not being a strong point). But no, the waiter chap returned and admonished the perpetrators 'no dancing on dance floor - listening only!' was his refrain, which even surprised a couple of the Japanese who had got up for a swift two-step.

I think it was then, at not even 945, that we realised that it was not to be, made our farewells and headed out into the Ikebukuro night. In the time honoured fashion of very drunk people everywhere, I think we then decided that we hadn't had enough so sought out another favourable watering hole, the Hub pub I think, stayed they for a while and then, somehow, I fell in a fountain - things are a little hazy about it all around this point but I managed to find my way home and then complained long and loud to the guru (who had stayed at home) of being abandoned by everyone else. Next day I was informed that I had said me goodbyes to everyone before wandering off, bumping into things/people and listing heavily to port.

And the best thing about it was the whole evening hardly cost a thing because of this great nomihoudai deal at the hotel. About a tenner or so, which if you're Japanese and only stay for 30 minutes and one drink is probably a very good deal for the hotel, but if 15 foreigners turn up with the express intention of drinking for the entirety of the alotted time, I think the place may soon have been out of pocket.

Oh well, we had fun anyway.

Getting Chilli

Yes, we now have chillis! The seeds that I sowed more in hope than in expectation in spring have matured into quite big plants and we now have two fully formed green chillis slowly getting bigger. Next step is to try them out. The guru says she will have none of this (good, home grown organic produce, whyever not, what could be healthier?) so it shall have to be up to yours truly to test the water, as it were. Further bulletins as events, or hospital reports, warrant...

And lastly

Happy birhday to golf-playing-brother, who is one year older today. Yaay!